The Vikings finally cracked the win column on Sunday by flipping momentum from the Panthers in the third quarter at Carolina.
Vikings fans showed out in full force with their purple covering quite a few of the light blue seats at Carolina. They celebrated as the game turned with a sack and forced fumble by Harrison Smith that D.J. Wonnum returned 51 yards for his first career touchdown and were tremendous on the road.
The defense built on that momentum by quickly forcing a three-and-punt, and the Vikings drove 56 yards for a touchdown on just four plays on their next series to end the third quarter.
Minnesota (1-3) quickly turned the page to begin preparing for defending Super Bowl Champion Kansas City (3-1). The Week 5 game is scheduled to kick off at 3:25 p.m. (CT) and mark the first appearance by the Chiefs at U.S. Bank Stadium.
Next Gen Stats
Smith said when he saw the football bounce to Wonnum, he had a good belief that the outside linebacker would make it to the end zone because he's got some "juice."
According to Next Gen Stats, Wonnum, who is listed at 6-foot-5 and 258 pounds, reached a top speed of 18.37 miles per hour during his return.
How pivotal was the play?
According to NGS, Minnesota's win probability skyrocketed from 21 percent before the snap to 56 percent after it.
Hitman the Blitz Man
The sack and forced fumble was one of three sacks and pressures on the day by Smith, who blitzed eight times in total.
That followed a whopping 14 blitzes by Smith against the Chargers in Week 3.
Room to run
Alexander Mattison (17 carries for 95 yards) and Cam Akers (five for 40) got the Vikings run game going and helped Minnesota finish with a season-best 135 yards on the ground.
According to NGS, the rate Mattison was contacted behind the line of scrimmage dropped from a combined 43.6 percent in Weeks 1-3 to 21.4 percent in Week 4.
Cousins and all five offensive linemen who started — LT Christian Darrisaw, LG Ezra Cleveland, C Austin Schlottmann, RG Ed Ingram and RT Brian O'Neill — played all 48 offensive snaps.
Jefferson was in the game for 47 snaps, missing just one play after a big hit. Tight end T.J. Hockenson played 42 snaps, and K.J. Osborn was in for 40.
Mattison played 33 on offense, and Cam Akers was in for 14. Fellow running back Ty Chandler did not play an offensive snap but was on the field for six special teams snaps.
Reserve offensive linemen David Quessenberry, Blake Brandel and Dalton Risner each played three special teams snaps (extra points kicked by Greg Joseph).
Smith and fellow safety Camryn Bynum each played all 72 defensive snaps for Minnesota. Cornerback Akayleb Evans was on the field for 71.
Linebacker Jordan Hicks and cornerback Byron Murphy, Jr., were each on the field for 68 defensive snaps.
The Vikings were able to rotate their outside linebackers with the addition of Marcus Davenport, who played 45 snaps. Danielle Hunter again led that group (56 snaps). Wonnum played 45, and Pat Jones II was on the field for 38 defensive snaps.
From the Inbox
Emailers were relieved to experience a victory, but they remain concerned about a few legitimate worries like the turnovers that we've addressed quite a bit. I was late getting back to Minnesota Monday because I had stayed for the awesome Special Olympics Unified Flag Football game between teams sponsored by Minnesota and Carolina, so here's a quick sampling from the inbox. The commercial flight was loaded with Vikings fans — a cool environment while I was working on another story.
When you want to keep a drive going — stop throwing 25-yard passes when it's third-and-2. You just need a quick short pass or a smart run play. This decision was made more than once and is not smart. Once in a while, maybe but not 2-3 times in a game where these long passes aren't working. How about making smart decisions on these situations? Please don't do that again unless the confidence is high, you're on a roll and have already made 2-3 first downs.
— Dan in Kokomo, Indiana (Long-time fan)
A couple of third-and-2s come to mind from Sunday's game when it seemed like the passes thrown weren't as likely as some other routes.
The first was in the second quarter on a pass thrown to the left. Head Coach Kevin O'Connell opted to go for it on fourth-and-2 from his own 44 while trailing 10-0 early in the second quarter. That call seemed to be a higher-percentage throw than the previous play, and Minnesota was able to finish that extended possession with its first touchdown.
In the fourth quarter, however, with a 21-13 lead and 7:36 remaining in the game, the Vikings tried to go large with a deep pass to Jefferson. Cousins is consistently accurate, and Jefferson is exceptional at finishing plays, but at that juncture of the game, a chain-mover could have helped Minnesota run some more clock.
Instead, the Panthers got the ball back with 7:20 remaining in the fourth quarter and were able to be very methodical on their way to the red zone before Smith's second and third sacks of the day finished the game.
Viking fans should take heart in the heart shown by the club in Carolina yesterday. After 0-3 start and 10-0 deficit in yesterday's game, it would have been very easy for team have a collective "here we go again" moment and fold. Instead, the Vikes held the line and made enough plays on both sides of the ball to grind out a win against a desperate team in steamy Carolina. Nothing to be easily dismissed.
Yes, there were the all-too-common-lately problems (turnovers and penalties), but the team should gain some confidence in that they overcame them and found a way to win. That's what good teams do.
With that in mind, however, Vikings will have to be considerably better in upcoming game against the Super Chiefs. There will be little to no margin for error. Encouraging to see that running game (with Mattison and Akers) was quite productive yesterday. Will need more of that to play keep-away from KC.
Perhaps history can repeat itself this Sunday. If you're my age, you can remember the disappointment of SB IV. However, the Purple People Eaters consumed the Chiefs (27-10) in the rematch just eight months later (opening day 1970 season) at Metropolitan Stadium on national television.
— Brian Mason in Waterford, New York
It was pretty remarkable that the Chiefs put up 38 in Super Bowl LVII despite only having the ball against the Eagles for 24:13. Nick Bolton's fumble return touchdown impacted that a bit (and so did Kadarius Toney's 65-yard punt return), but Philadelphia ran 72 plays, compared to 53 by Kansas City and converted 11 of 18 third downs in that game, as well as both tries on fourth downs.
Yet, it still wasn't enough because of how explosive and opportunistic the Chiefs are.
The resolve of the Vikings was shown Sunday and will continue to be needed for the team to climb out of its 1-3 start.
I know that one of the main reasons the Vikings drafted [Jordan] Addison was to take some of the pressure of double teams off of Jefferson. However, it seems like Addison is non-existent. How do you plan on getting him more involved?
— Patrick D. in Raleigh, North Carolina
Addison entered Week 4 with 13 catches for 185 yards and two touchdowns on 20 targets. The Vikings dialed his number early on the first drive with a deep shot, and it resulted in a 45-yard pass interference penalty. That yardage won't get anyone the fantasy points, but it did help the Vikings have a golden opportunity at a touchdown that was nixed by the pick-6.
The Vikings ran just 44 offensive plays (23 rushes, 19 pass attempts and two other dropbacks that resulted in sacks) and possessed the ball for just 21:31, so there were limited opportunities for the whole group.
I think they'll continue to find ways to get him involved, but the team knows it has to do a better job of staying on the field.
Is [Marcus] Davenport an x-factor?
— Cameron Rease
Quite possibly. Although he was shaking off some rust from the ankle injury that sidelined him for all but four plays in Weeks 1-3, he also turned in multiple impactful plays against the Panthers.
Davenport recorded his first sack as a Viking and came up huge on the series between Minnesota's second half touchdowns. Although he didn't finish the TFL or the sack, he was quite disruptive to help force that quick three-and-punt by Carolina.
It was a glimpse of what the Vikings envisioned when they signed him as a free agent, and the Vikings hope there's plenty more to come from him.