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Disappointing Final Drive Overshadows Otherwise Strong Day for Vikings Defense

There are rarely any perfect games in the NFL.

But for nearly 55 minutes, the Vikings defense was pretty darn close.

Not that Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer takes any consolation in that.

"I thought we got after them all day long until that last drive where they went down and tied it," Zimmer said. "We've got work to do there."

The Vikings squeaked out a 34-28 overtime win in Week 6, but don't be fooled by the point total for the Panthers.

In reality, Minnesota's defense allowed just 13 points in the first 59 minutes of the game. And even the lone touchdown they did allow came on an 18-yard drive for Carolina. (The Panthers also scored on a blocked punt).

But what will irk Zimmer (and the entire Vikings defense) is that the unit had a chance to close out the game with just over two minutes left.

Minnesota led 28-20 and had just pinned Carolina on its own 4-yard line. And after three straight incompletions by Sam Darnold, one more meant the game was over.

But the Vikings were burned by tight end Ian Thomas on a 41-yard catch right up the seam with Eric Kendricks in coverage. It moved the chains and kept Carolina's hopes alive.

"We had them fourth-and-10 at the 4, and they went spread and hit one down the middle," Zimmer said. "We didn't line up very good on that one particular play. I would anticipate my guys being a little bit smarter in that situation."

Kendricks said he excpected a shorter route from Thomas on the play.

"We gave a look like we were blitzing, like [Zimmer] said, and I got out. The guy ran a go route, I thought he was going to stop at the sticks," Kendricks said. "It was fourth-and-10, so I got to play it true. I was man-to-man on him.

"It was a good ball, right down the middle and away from the safety," Kendricks added. "Tried to punch it out as soon as he caught it. Sometimes that happens."

Zimmer later said the onus was on him to help direct the proper coverage.

"We lined up too close to the receivers," Zimmer said. "It's understanding part of we have to do in that situation, too. I've got to do a better job of teaching them."

The Vikings had the Panthers on the ropes yet again on that drive, as Carolina faced fourth-and-6 from the Vikings 32.

This time, Darnold connected with D.J. Moore for a 25-yard gain down the left sideline. The Panthers scored on the next play, then promptly tied the game on the ensuing 2-point conversion.

Overall, the Panthers had 306 yards of total offense … 96 of which happened on the final drive. Carolina's first 12 possessions featured 58 plays for 210 yards, an average of just 3.62 yards pr play.

The Vikings tallied four sacks, with Kendricks, Armon Watts and James Lynch getting to Darnold. Anthony Barr and Dalvin Tomlinson shared a sack.

And Minnesota recorded a season-high three takeaways. Bashaud Breeland had an interception on the first play of the game, Xavier Woods and Watts recorded forced fumbles, while Kendricks and Tomlinson made fumble recoveries.

"We knew getting people at his feet and getting people in his face is going to make him make quick decisions, throw some interceptions hopefully," Kendricks said. "Yeah, anytime we can pressure a quarterback, we're going to do that."

Minnesota has now recorded 21.0 total sacks so far this season, which is tied with Chicago for the league lead. The Vikings had a franchise-low 23.0 total sacks a season ago.

So yes, while the final series for the defense was a bitter one, it shouldn't overshadow an otherwise strong day.

"They had 96 yards to go for a touchdown with 2 minutes left, and I'm thinking, 'Let's not give up a big play right here,' " Zimmer said.

The Vikings did, and the Panthers capitalized.

But Minnesota's defense was perhaps the Vikings most complete unit Sunday in Carolina.

"I'm ready to put a full game together, for sure," Kendricks said. "But that's part of the sport, you know? You got to love the struggle a little bit.

"Go back, watch this film, see what we did good and see what we did bad," Kendricks added. "And get right back to it. You have to stay even-keel. You can't get too up or too down."