The Vikings are back in the winner's circle.
After having its first three games of 2023 disrupted by turnovers and one-score losses, Minnesota appeared to be on the same path in the first half on Sunday against the Carolina Panthers. A pair of interceptions deep in Carolina territory led to 10 points for the Panthers, who took a 13-7 halftime lead.
The second half was all purple, though. A strip-sack in the third quarter from Vikings safety Harrison Smith bounced into the hands of outside linebacker D.J. Wonnum, who returned it 51 yards for a touchdown. Smith and Wonnum’s efforts highlighted a second-half defensive shutout for Minnesota in a 21-13 victory, its first win of the season.
The Vikings (1-3) moved up on a few lists in this week's Power Rankings, including as high as 17, but relatively stayed put in most rankings. Minnesota will get another chance this week to notch its first win at home this season, as the Vikings welcome the reigning Super Bowl Champion Kansas City Chiefs.
Here's a look at where the Vikings rank going into Week 5:
No. 25 (up 1 spot): Eric Edholm, NFL.com
This team is still learning how to turn in a complete performance, but a win is a win. Kirk Cousins had his worst outing of the season, throwing two picks, including a 99-yard pick-6. But the run game woke up and the defense made enough plays. Harrison Smith had a great day, recording three sacks, including the game-clincher, and his forced fumble was run back by D.J. Wonnum for the go-ahead touchdown. Wonnum was everywhere, too, with a sack and a near pick-6. After falling behind 10-0 early, the Vikings notched a hard-fought road victory. Baby steps.
No. 17 (up 8 spots): Josh Kendall, The Athletic
The league's third-most prolific passing offense (287.3 passing yards per game) finally got its first victory Sunday. Kirk Cousins leads the league in touchdown passes (11), but Sunday's most chaotic play may have come when he threw a touchdown to the Panthers and then sprinted almost the length of the field only to get obliterated by a block.
No. 22 (up 1 spot): NFL Staff, Bleacher Report
Last year, the Vikings played in 11 one-score games and won them all. Heading into Week 4, they had played in three one-score games and lost each one.
The Vikings finally reversed that trend on Sunday in Carolina, even if it took an ugly win to do it.
Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins threw for just 139 yards and tossed a pair of interceptions, one of which was returned 99 yards for a Panthers touchdown. But thanks to Minnesota's best defensive effort of the year and a pair of Justin Jefferson touchdown grabs, the Vikings are finally in the win column.
After the win, Cousins credited the defense while talking to reporters.
"They made plays, scored a touchdown and Harrison Smith was phenomenal," Cousins said. "That was big. For our defense to get us the momentum back as Carolina was driving, and to turn it into seven points for us was huge."
No. 29 (no change): Pete Prisco, CBS Sports
[The Vikings] won their first game at Carolina, but it sure wasn't pretty. They have to cut down on the mistakes as the Chiefs come to town.
No. 29 (no change): Vinnie Iyer, Sporting News
The Vikings worked on holding on to the ball a little more, despite Kirk Cousins giving up an early pick-six in Carolina. They are finding their way on the ground to help their attacking in the air. Now they need to build on it for [Head Coach] Kevin O'Connell.
No. 25 (down 1 spot): Nate Davis, USA Today Sports
Harrison Smith – "Harry the Hitman" – is still a lethal football assassin. The safety had three sacks Sunday, double his previous career best, including the strip-sack that led to a Minnesota recovery and touchdown return that finally flipped a game into the win column.
No. 24 (no change): Frank Schwab, Yahoo! Sports
Safety Harrison Smith is still fantastic. He had 14 tackles and three sacks on Sunday, including sacks on second-and-goal and then fourth-and-goal with the Panthers trailing 21-13 in the final two minutes. Even at age 34, he's a top safety in the NFL.