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Final Thoughts: Vikings at Panthers in Week 4

EAGAN, Minn. — Justin Jefferson does not want to hear about trade talks.

The Vikings 0-3 start has ignited outside conversation about Minnesota dealing key players for future assets. However, Jefferson clarified that the team is focused on still accomplishing its original season-long goals.

"I'm tired of people saying that we're looking into next season or all of the trades and stuff like that," Jefferson said. "We're focused still on this season. We have a lot more games to go, and we have a lot more things to accomplish this season. We're still focused in, and we still have the same goal as we had before the season. We just need to fix a few things and I feel like we'll be back on track."

Jefferson understands more than 80 percent of the season remains. The Vikings have yet to face an NFC North opponent and will end the season with two games in three weeks versus the Lions.

Every team faces adversity at some point. Jefferson hopes the Vikings are exercising their hardships early.

"There's things that you've got to go through throughout the season to really tell if you're going to be a great team or not," Jefferson said. "We're handling adversity early in the season with the turnovers and being 0-3, but there is a whole bunch of more games to go."

Matchup to watch

Vikings defensive tackles versus Panthers interior guards

It's been a turntable for the Panthers at guard. Through three games, the team has started three different right guards. Losing left guard Brady Christensen (a three-year starter) to a season-ending biceps injury in Week 1 caused a ripple effect with the team's interior protection.

Rookie guard Chandler Zavala moved from left to right, forcing Carolina to start former undrafted free agent Calvin Throckmorton at left guard. Zavala and Throckmorton have allowed a combined 28 pressures through three weeks.

The Vikings interior defensive linemen will have an opportunity to generate interior pressure on rookie quarterback Bryce Young.

The interior also will be tasked with protecting their respective A and B gaps in the run game versus the Panthers zone running scheme.

Carolina struggled to run the ball against the Seahawks last week as backup Andy Dalton threw the ball a career-high 58 times. The Panthers gained just 44 yards on 16 carries. Seattle's defensive tackles routinely held the line of scrimmage, which opened clear run-defending lanes for Seattle's second-level linebackers and safeties. Seahawks weak-side linebacker Jordyn Brooks and safety Julian Love combined for 11 of the team's 43 tackles.

If the interior wins its matchups, Minnesota's next level of defenders can attack running lanes.

Six Points: Memorable Week 3 Quotes

QB Kirk Cousins on reviewing film of Week 3 loss and turning the page to Week 4:

"I hope my boys find something they're as passionate about as I am about football, but I hope it doesn't torment them the way football torments me. I mean, I'm crawling in my skin driving home from the stadium on Sunday and the last two days. You've gotta get back up on the horse on Wednesday morning and come back to work. But you're sitting there in meetings, and you're just frustrated. And that's part of it. Because it matters to you, and it should hurt.

"But I'm always reminded, you know, in March and April when you're going another time around the horn, you know you're signing up for some frustrations here and there and some moments you wish you could have back. So that's where we are right now. I'm thankful that we've been as explosive as an offense as we have been – there's a lot to build on. But you've gotta put it all together. Four quarters, all phases of football. Red zone, third down, short yardage, first and second down, run game, pass game. And that's no easy task."

Head Coach Kevin O'Connell on preparing for Andy Dalton or Bryce Young at QB for Carolina:

"I think you have to prepare for [the Panthers] overall scheme, and you may have a couple things based on whether it's the veteran or the rookie or a combination of the two, you never know, but I know Bryce is a tough guy, trying to work his way back and my expectation would be that we better plan on seeing him and all that he brings, which is a lot from an athletic standpoint, very accurate, sees the whole field. I spent a lot of time when Bryce was coming out, just evaluating him, getting to know him. I was a big fan of his and expect him to have a really strong year."

S Harrison Smith on not playing 'desperate' to find first win:

"The mentality of doing your job, preparing as best as possible. When you start chasing too hard, things kind of get whacky. So there still should be a high level of urgency when you're 0-3, but you can't go crazy."

Offensive Coordinator Wes Phillips on improving run game in Week 3 and importance of that moving forward:

"It's huge. To have an efficient run game, it opens other things up. When you start out in the first drive, I think it was five straight runs, and you feel like you get some momentum as an offense when you can pass and run. Really, you're calling plays and guys are coming off the ball, they're firing off, and more than anything, I credit the offensive linemen, the tight ends, the backs who are running the football. There was a real urgency about the practice. And that's what we try to highlight to these guys: 'The way you practice showed up in the game.' It's not to say we were just screwing around in previous weeks, but there was an intentional purpose about, 'We are going to make this better.' With the techniques, the way they came off the ball, the urgency, combinations, the hand placements – everything about it, you could feel it. … I think that can be a nice building block going forward."

G Dalton Risner on where he's at with the Vikings playbook:

"Playbook, I'm a lot better [than where I was last week]. I'm feeling really good. Every single day gets better and better, but I've been in that thing knee-deep for a week. I feel really good. There are still things here and there sometimes you hear that you're like, 'OK, let me get refreshed on that.' Then once you get the playbook down, you want to start building that camaraderie with the offensive line around you and the calls that they make against different fronts – and if there's an audible or a blitz or a shift or a motion that changes the look, 'OK, how are going to quickly get to the next look?' "

Special Teams Coordinator Matt Daniels on rookie OLB Andre Carter II making his NFL debut against the Chargers:

"I thought Andre Carter, the game wasn't too big for him. I even asked him postgame, what was it like for him, and what his thoughts were compared to the preseason … and he was like, 'Guys are just better. Just better guys out there.' So the moment wasn't too big for him, and he'll continue with his development and growing as a player. We'll see how much more we can really implement and get him more in the game plan from a special teams standpoint, because I do think he is a matchup problem from a punt return standpoint, punt, really all four phases of the game. Even field goal block, too, just with his length and his ability that he has."

Milestones Approaching

C.J. Ham is set to play in his 100th NFL game, becoming the fourth undrafted offensive player in Vikings history to join the century club, along with Mick Tingelhoff (240), Leo Lewis (140) and Adam Thielen (135). Ham, Thielen and Marcus Sherels (123) are the only three undrafted Minnesota natives to play at least 100 games for the Vikings.

Cousins has thrown for more than 300 yards 49 times during his career, including all three games so far this season. The three-game streak ties his personal bests (2015 Weeks 13-15 with Washington; 2019 Weeks 5-7 and 2020 Weeks 10-12 for Minnesota) within a regular season. If he has one more such game at any point this season, it will make him the fifth QB with 50 games in his first 12 seasons and 15th player all-time with 50 such games.

Jefferson, who has had 150, 159 and 149 yards in Minnesota's first three games can become the fourth player since 2000 with 100-plus yards in each of his team's first four games, joining Isaac Bruce (2004), Randy Moss (2007) and Adam Thielen (2018).

Oh, by the way…

Cousins passed Tommy Kramer (159) last week for second on Minnesota's career touchdown passes list and has 162. Only Fran Tarkenton has thrown more scores for Minnesota (239).

"Fan-ally" Friday

Lot of frustration hitting the inbox. I get it. No one wants to be 0-3. That's for fans, players, coaches and staff. — Craig

As I'm sure we all agree, it's been a very disappointing start to the season. Obviously, turnovers and drops have been a massive factor, but our defense has been struggling as well. Looking forward, do you think we will see changes made to the defense whether that be personnel or schemes? And if that's the case, what specifically would you like to see? Thank you!

— Jacob Rockow

I think we'll continue to see Defensive Coordinator Brian Flores tailor game plans to what he thinks will give the Vikings the best chance to win, based on the combination of who he has available and trying to affect a particular opponent.

In Philadelphia, Minnesota utilized some elements of a 3-3-5 that was designed to limit the Eagles read-option game. Against Los Angeles, it was blitz, blitz, blitz. Chargers QB Justin Herbert handled it within rhythm. Maybe there's another way to try to change the rhythm within a few snaps? Herbert also got away with his big mistake with that wild deflection off Akayleb Evans for the winning touchdown.

The Vikings gave up some yardage, but the defense, particularly in Philadelphia deserved a better outcome than 34 points on the board, which was dramatically affected by Minnesota's turnovers.

Regardless of approach and availability, the Vikings need to be better at keeping points off the board late in the second quarter because those can be pivotal moments that sometimes get overshadowed in our minds by the recency of the fourth quarters.

I have been a devoted Viking fan my whole life. Also am a [Season Ticket Member] even though I live in Dallas! Love reading articles on this site but very tired of you defending the Vikings on every comment that comes in! Will you get fired if you actually criticize them once in a while? This is an embarrassment to start the season. Can you just say that?? I'm tired of being mediocre for so many years!

— Dave from Dallas!!

Appreciate the readership. When I first started covering sports after college 18 years ago, I mostly covered preps, so it guided me toward trying to be explanatory without throwing teenagers under a bus. I've kind of continued that at other levels of the sport, even though the current group of people I cover are compensated professionals with high expectations set for themselves and by others.

In this role, I try to be a conduit that explains what coaches and players were thinking. There's been plenty to criticize for the start of the season. Every team employee and website approaches things differently, either because of the individual market (Minnesota is generally friendlier than some others), the teams' ownership groups or with influence from general managers and head coaches.

I can tell you I've heard from other colleagues about their GMs wanting to see everything before it posts to the team site. That is not the case here, either with our features or with responses to fans' comments. The alternative to not offering counterpoints (when I happen to disagree personally or if there's more perspective I can try to relay) would be not including those comments from fans at all, I guess, but I think it's important Vikings fans have a spot to share their thoughts, so long as they don't cross a line with profanity (I receive those messages too) or degrading another human too much.

You and all the Vikings brass and players can excuse many mistakes, but you cannot defend the mistake that cost us the game. Not spiking the ball at the end of the game! The excuse given by Cousins was he doesn't want to make a unilateral decision by himself. The coach said he has high expectations and wanted to get two plays in. Then they both blamed the crowd for crowd noise. Please, this is covering up for poor quarterbacking and coaching. They panicked and couldn't handle the pressure of the immediate situation!! Take any top 10 quarterbacks in this league, they immediately would have spiked the ball.

That is basic football 101! Not Cousins, he cannot handle big-time situations. He is good at setting passing records but never can win a big game! Now let's finish with the head coach, I thought he was the real deal last year but clearly he needed another couple of years learning from his mentor in L.A. He clearly panicked! Lastly let us not forget the GM who said we are in a competitive rebuild. That must have come from his theory of analytics? What a joke!

I am 76 years old, have followed the Vikings ever since their inception. Who would have thought that the best we could ever see was the great teams in the 70's under our best coach ever Bud Grant! He would never have made excuses!

I am very disappointed in our new Viking leadership!

— Terry in Battle Lake, Minnesota

While I appreciate your assessment in including me in "Vikings brass," I can assure you I'm very far away from that.

There was plenty of chaos at the end of the game, and O'Connell and Cousins were unable to communicate clearly during that sequence. Receiving part of a message is worse than none in that situation (I'm sure that sounds like an excuse to some). The noise wasn't as loud as when the Vikings defense is on the field, but it was notably louder than it normally is when the home offense has the ball. If O'Connell had been trying to scream from the sideline to make up for the headset, that would not have been effective.

They've also explained the initial goal was to attack the Chargers without giving Los Angeles an opportunity to set its defense. It just didn't work as envisioned.

Heading into Week 4, O'Connell is 13-7 in regular-season games. That's a .650 winning percentage, which is obviously down from such a high point in his first campaign, but still high. I'd argue he showed he was ready to be a head coach multiple times last season.

While I have nothing but tremendous respect for Coach Grant and the way he and his teams built the legacy we still get to honor, through two seasons, he was 11-14-3. In today's climate, some teams would fire those results. The 1969-71 teams went 35-7 in the regular season before the 1972 squad suffered through a 7-7 existence defined by mistakes and missed opportunities. The 1972 team opened 1-3, committing eight turnovers in those three losses and zero in its first win of the season. Sound familiar to the start of this season?

Protecting the football means more than anything in this sport.

Can we sell you to Mexico? Been cheering you for 50 years. The excuses are over…go away.

— Debra Hall

I'm not a contracted employee, so I don't have a "don't-sell-me-to-Mexico" clause.

As they have for decades now, Vikes invent yet one more way to lose a game they should have won. Two possessions inside the opposition 7-yard line in the waning minutes trailing by 4 — and no points scored. Snatching defeat from the jaws of victory yet again — and playoff aspirations all but gone before the calendar flips to October. Where's the poise and leadership in crucial situations? Right now, it doesn't exist.

For long-time fans, this will mark the 47th consecutive season without a Super Bowl appearance. I suspect some members of management and coaching staff don't realize this. If the Vikings were the subject of a college case study, one might conclude that there's a protracted problem within the organization's environment. Perhaps a lack of high expectation and a tacit acceptance of chronic mediocrity.

I suspect my observations will not be printed, as was the case with my previous submission. Unfortunately, the truth remains the truth, and nothing will change unless changes are made in personnel and organizational culture/environment.

— Brian Mason in Waterford, New York (fan for more than 50 years)

Yeah, the ending of that will be stuck in our minds for quite some time, but it also made me wonder where everyone would be directing the brunt of their criticism had the Chargers gained the yard on fourth-and-1 from the 24. It probably would have reverted to the previous drive as the last time the Vikings had the ball and failed to capitalize on having the ball so close but not getting points.

There were missed opportunities on that drive, as well as the one in the second quarter when Alexander Mattison would have had a walk-in receiving touchdown but Cousins' arm was hit as he was throwing the pass.

One of the phrases O'Connell used this week emphasized the importance of being "truth tellers" as they go about fixing the problems.

This season kicked off with the Vikings hosting more than 30 members of the 1970s Super Bowl teams. We devoted a significant amount of time to making the Playbook game program retro to go along with that, and there was a gathering for those Vikings Legends on Saturday before they were honored on the field Sunday. Honoring the past remains important, even with a second-year GM and head coach, and a Chief Operating Officer who was hired in 2019.

Unfortunately, those three Super Bowl Sundays included multiple uncharacteristic mistakes by the Vikings. So far, three game days in 2023 have been marred by mistakes that the Vikings hope become uncharacteristic when compared to the rest of the season.

Ownership continues invest resources, and the Vikings have usually been at or near the limit for the salary cap.

The Vikings are usually competitive, which is not rewarded in the NFL's model that gives higher picks to teams that do worse than the median.

Lastly, it's somewhat difficult to publish everyone's comments, but we do make an effort to mix in a variety of opinions. We have the fortune of such a large fan base.

As a 60-year Vikings fan, I just want to say this: Re-sign Kirk Cousins to a long-term contract. Then build an O-line to allow him time to find open receivers.

It's hard to imagine Cousins delivering more results than he's put up through three weeks. In fact, and I know this won't help anyone to point out, but he's the first QB in NFL history to have 1,000 passing yards and 9+ touchdowns for a team that's lost its first three games of a season. He's also been walloped plenty of times. Pressures allowed have affected his production.

Well, here we are at 0-3 with (on paper) some of the best offensive weapons in the league and another big surprise, ZERO defense!!!! I said this since training camp. We did nothing to lock up some big bodies up front, thus why we get ZERO pressure on opposing teams' QBs. While also "wasting" all of this money for an injury plagued [outside linebacker Marcus Devenport] when we could have fixed [Za'Darius Smith's] contract. Opposing QBs can sit there and dissect. This franchise is garbage and cursed. I see why we will never hoist a [Lombardi Trophy] in my lifetime. I'll just continue to focus on fantasy football and not waste my time and caring about a team that will never be what I think they should be.

Also, where is Brian Asamoah?!?!?!

He was supposed to be one of the starting LBs, and now nothing, nada. Not a word from coaches, players, nothing. Like he actually disappeared. What's going on with what was supposed to be a major new contributor with this so-called defense?

— Cyrus Sutherland

Davenport looked great all offseason and through training camp. It has been unfortunate that Minnesota hasn't had him as a potential difference maker up front with the absence of a handful of plays so far, but I think he's making progress.

It just seemed like Smith wanted out. He said so publicly on social media.

There have been some unlucky breaks so far. That's part of the game, and sometimes teams are able to overcome those.

As for the second part of the question, Asamoah was banged up during the preseason, and Ivan Pace, Jr., filled in at a level that coaches are happy with. A lot has been made about the 2022 draft class, but they were drafted with a different defensive philosophy in place than the one that Flores has brought. It's up to him to decide which players provide the best fits for what he's trying to accomplish on any particular play.

I'm not giving up on the season. Reason being is the Vikings have too much talent not to be in the playoff chase at the end of the year. Looking at the rest of the schedule, I only see two losses with more than 50-percent certainty; the other 12 games could go either way. The difference from last year to this year is the Vikings made that game-changing play at the end of the game to go 11-0 in one score games. This year they had the same chances and didn't make that one play to win the game. Whichever way the season goes I will never root for the Vikings to lose. I think that is asinine to be a fan and think that way. I just turned 60 and am living in Packer country, so I would say I have been a fan of the Vikings for the better part of 50 years, and I have never wanted the team to lose, even in the Les Steckel year. On the other hand, there was only one game that I wanted the Packers to win. My point being I don't think MMM should give any talk about tanking the season for a better draft pick oxygen. I get that fans are frustrated but if you can't support the team Win or Lose, then you need to step off the bandwagon. Good luck the rest of the season.

— Al in Denmark, Wisconsin

Appreciate the opportunity to highlight Al's resolve and close out this segment.

I included a bit about people who are clamoring for trades several weeks before the NFL trade deadline, but I just don't see how doing so at the moment outweighs any benefit of seeing where this team is at closer to the middle of the season.

I love that Al referenced giving the topic "oxygen" because of the way Jefferson spoke against that mindset during his media session that led today's Final Thoughts. It doesn't sound like he or anyone else is thinking that way.

The plays to be made have been there. We'll see how they shake out going forward.