The Vikings moved to 3-0 on Sunday with a hard-fought 22-10 win over the defending NFC champion Carolina Panthers at Bank of America Stadium. The defense was good from start to finish but Sunday's win was another illustration of what complementary football can create. Here are 10 observations from Sunday's win over the Panthers…
1. Vikings found a way
One of head coach Mike Zimmer's rallying cries for his team is "Find A Way." It calls on the team to keep fight in order to find a way to achieve its goals regardless of the adversity that arises. With QB Teddy Bridgewater already out for the season, the Vikings saw DT Sharrif Floyd, LT Matt Kalil and RB Adrian Peterson all undergo surgery this week; Kalil and Peterson were placed on the Reserve/Injured list. On top of that, Alex Boone left Sunday's game early with a leg injury and a number of other players were forced from the game due to injury. Through it all, the players available for action stepped up and kept fighting. TJ Clemmings and Jeremiah Sirles stepped in for Kalil and Boone, respectively, Shamar Stephen keeps playing well in Floyd's stead, and Trae Waynes had another interception as Xavier Rhodes works his way back from an injury.
2. Defense set the pace (and scored again)
The Vikings defense continues to get the job done and lead the way. On Sunday, they created three turnovers and even scored when DE Danielle Hunter sacked QB Cam Newton in the end zone for a safety. That safety marked the first of 22 unanswered points for the Vikings as they methodically erased a 10-0 lead ran away from a talented and tough Panthers team. The Vikings intercepted Newton three times and didn't give the ball away once, authoring a plus-three margin in the turnover battle and increasing the season-long margin to plus-eight.
3. Vikings played more complementary football
While the defense is dominating the highlight reel, the Vikings are generating wins by playing complementary football. Aside from the safety and three turnovers by the defense, the Vikings also had their special teams score a touchdown on a 54-yard Marcus Sherels punt return and the offense scored a touchdown of its own while never giving the Panthers a short field with a giveaway. Carolina's average drive start was their own 24 while the Vikings average drive start was their own 30. Five times the Vikings pinned the Panthers inside their own 20 for a drive start, and Carolina scored on zero of those possessions; the Vikings defense has now allowed zero scores on 13 opponent drives that have started inside the 20. All phases of the Vikings team are complementing each other either by working well in tandem or by picking up the slack when one or both of the other phases slip up.
4. No dab for Cam
One week after doing a number of Aaron Rodgers, the Vikings defense did another number on the reigning NFL MVP. Newton was pressured, chased, hit and tackled all afternoon. In the end, the Vikings finished the game with eight sacks and 12 quarterback hits. Hunter's sack was the first of the afternoon and resulted in the safety, Anthony Barr, Brian Robison and Harrison Smith leveled punishing hits on Newton for sacks, and Everson Griffen was the most prolific with three sacks on the afternoon. After allowing Newton to start the day eight-of-eight with a rushing touchdowns to boot, the Vikings defense held Newton to 12-of-26 passing with three interceptions the rest of the game.
5. Rudy's big day
Have a day, Kyle Rudolph. The Vikings sure-handed TE caught seven passes for 70 yards and one touchdown on 10 targets on Sunday, including an impressive 15-yard touchdown reception. Of Rudolph's seven catches, six were for a 1st down or touchdown and six came in the second half.
6. CBs shut down KB
The Vikings did something unusual at cornerback and it led to something unusual for Carolina's offensive production. Even with Rhodes returning to action from injury, Zimmer elected to use a three-man rotation at outside cornerback with Terence Newman, Rhodes and Waynes. The rotation seemed to help, at least in part, neutralize one of the Panthers best pass catchers – WR Kelvin Benjamin. Entering Sunday's game, Benjamin had 13 receptions for 199 yards and three touchdowns. On Sunday, he had no catches and just one target.
7. Offensive line solid outing
Much-maligned and suddenly banged up through two games, the Vikings offensive line had a solid outing on Sunday. Clemmings filled in admirably for Kalil at left tackle, Sirles came up big when Boone went down and RG Brandon Fusco rebounded with a gritty performance against a tough Panthers interior defensive line. The Vikings allowed two early sacks but then kept Bradford clean in the second half and the offense was able to strike a balance, with 28 passes compared to 24 runs. All things considered with the injuries and the caliber of opponent with Carolina's front seven, it was a good day for the Minnesota Moving Company.
View images as the Vikings take on the Panthers at Bank of America Stadium Sunday.
8. Another good day for Locke
After another outstanding day on Sunday, Jeff Locke is having the best season of his career. He had seven punts in Carolina and he teamed up with his coverage unit to allow zero return yards to the ultra-dangerous Ted Ginn, Jr. Three of Locke's seven punts were downed inside the 20, including two inside the five. Locke also had a long punt of 62 yards, a net average of 45.6 and he executed well near the end of the game when he blasted one into the end zone so as not to give Ginn a chance to steal momentum as Carolina looked to mount a comeback.
9. Patterson contributes on punt team
Once upon a time it was a cool trick to have Everson Griffen play gunner on the punt team. It's similarly amusing now to see Special Teams Coordinator Mike Priefer use Cordarrelle Patterson out there. Patterson is already a game-changing kickoff returner, and on Sunday he was a game changer on the punt team. Patterson down a punt on the Carolina 2 and he had a tackle in the phase; he also had two kickoff returns for 40 yards.
10. Atop the NFC, with prime time showdown versus Giants looming
The Vikings and the Eagles (3-0) are the only undefeated teams in the NFC. Minnesota has a suddenly resurgent New York Giants team coming to town for what will be a cool Monday Night Football showdown at U.S. Bank Stadium next week. The Giants did lose this week to the Washington Redskins at home, but they opened the season with two straight wins and seem to have things going in the right direction with new head coach Ben McAdoo.