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Vikings at Panthers Game Observations: Rally in 3rd Quarter Secures 1st Win

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — D.J. Wonnum got both hands on a football in the second quarter, but it fell for an incompletion instead of an interception.

The Vikings outside linebacker got a second chance in the third quarter after Harrison Smith forced a fumble during a sack of Bryce Young, who was sacked five times on the day.

This time, the former South Carolina Gamecock was able to catch the ball off the bounce and return it for a 51-yard touchdown to give Minnesota its first lead of the day with 3:58 remaining in the period.

The scoop-and-score provided the pivotal play as Minnesota rallied for a 21-13 victory Sunday at Carolina.

Wonnum helped force a quick three-and-punt by the Panthers (0-4) on their next series sacking Young for a loss of 11.

The Vikings (1-3) added another touchdown on their next series just four plays later, with Justin Jefferson catching a 30-yard pass from Kirk Cousins.

Marcus Davenport won his matchup on that third-down play, making first contact with Young before Wonnum finished it off. It was the second play of the series on which Davenport made a difference for the Vikings defense.

He started the drive by reaching and grabbing running back Chuba Hubbard's arm on first down. Hubbard broke free but was slowed, and Pat Jones II finished the tackle for a loss of 1.

Davenport ended Carolina's next series with a 9-yard sack of Young that moved the ball from the Minnesota 35-yard line and knocked the Panthers out of range for a field goal.

Here are four more observations from the game.

1. The Hitman Strikes Again and Again and Again

Smith made sure outside linebackers weren't the only ones sacking the rookie quarterback.

He blitzed from the edge multiple times and finished with 3.0 sacks on the day, boosting his career total to 19.5 and adding to his franchise record for sacks by a defensive back.

Smith completed the trifecta on Carolina's final possession. He sacked Young on second-and-goal from the 9 for a 9-yard loss and dropped him again on fourth-and-goal from the 18.

Smith got up, tapped his helmet and glided to the Vikings sideline, taking his helmet off as he reached the bench.

View postgame celebration photos from the Vikings 21-13 win over the Panthers in Week 4 of the 2023 season.

2. Jefferson and Thielen reunion

Jefferson and former Vikings receiver Adam Thielen soaked up their first time playing against each other.

Cameras swarmed the duo's midfield meeting after the game.

Jefferson led Minnesota with six catches for 85 yards and both offensive touchdowns (4 and 30 yards) on a day when Carolina limited Cousins to 12-of-19 passing for 139 yards and a passer rating of 80.7.

Thielen finished with a team-high 76 receiving yards. He caught seven passes on eight targets.

View game action photos from he Vikings at Panthers Week 4 at Bank of America Stadium

3. Turnovers make day more difficult again

For the fourth time in as many games, the Vikings lost the football with it inside an opponent's 2-yard line.

This time, it was Cousins targeting K.J. Osborn on an out route.

Starting in place of former Vikings safety Xavier Woods, Sam Franklin, Jr., stepped in front of the pass and took it 99 yards for a touchdown and a 7-0 lead less than five minutes into the game.

The Vikings also threw in another end-of-half turnover, as well, allowing contact on Cousins as he was throwing the football.

It fluttered into the arms of Kamu Grugier-Hill, who returned the ball 31 yards and set up Carolina to drive 18 yards to set up a career-long, 56-yard field goal by Eddy Pineiro as the first half expired.

Instead of tying the game at 10 or even taking the lead into the locker room, Minnesota trailed 13-7.

4. Akers adds to ground game

Sunday marked the Vikings debut for running back Cam Akers, who shared carries with starter Alexander Mattison.

The newcomer rushed five times for 40 yards and added two receptions for 11 yards.

Mattison still handled the brunt of the duties, rushing 17 times for 95 yards (5.6 per carry). He added one catch for a gain of 3 and had a nice blitz pickup on a pass that was incomplete (could have been much worse had Cousins been hit).