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The Vikings said so long to September and hello to October with a 21-13 victory on Sunday at Carolina.
Minnesota (1-3) bridged the change in months by continuing to suffer turnovers, but Harrison Smith's forced fumble that D.J. Wonnum returned 51 yards for a touchdown swayed the game. The scoop-and-score erased a 13-7 deficit to the Panthers (0-4), who scored 10 of their points after a pair of Minnesota turnovers.
The ground game featured some consistent gains as Alexander Mattison carried the ball 17 times for 95 yards and newcomer Cam Akers popped for 40 yards on five carries in his Vikings debut.
Kirk Cousins overcame two interceptions (he was hard on himself about the first one, which turned into a 99-yard interception return) to throw two touchdowns to Justin Jefferson.
Lastly, I wanted to mention how great it was to see Unified Flag Football teams sponsored by Minnesota and Carolina compete on the same field after the Vikings and Panthers game.
Wonnum? Wonn more of him!
— Sandra Deneen
The first win of the 2023 season means I'm willing to open with Sandra's pun (I generally like them but also try to "read the room").
Let me be clear, by doing so, I'm not overlooking the mistakes the Vikings made that put them behind early. In fact, several of the issues were being prepped as things to mention in observations. There's still plenty of climbing for this team to do, as well.
A week after the Chargers only lost the ball one time out of their four fumbles, the Panthers recovered their first fumble of the day after Camryn Bynum forced the ball away from Terrace Marshall, Jr.
But, the Vikings finally got a "Sunday hop" of the football after Smith knocked it away from Bryce Young.
Wonnum fielded the ball cleanly and then showed he could stretch his legs in the open field.
The former South Carolina Gamecock scored his first career touchdown on a day when he totaled six tackles, including a sack, two quarterback hits and a pass defensed.
It was also good for Marcus Davenport to be able to return to action. He flashed at key moments, particularly on the Carolina drive between Wonnum's score and the four-play touchdown drive that Minnesota executed for what became the final points of the game.
Davenport was credited with four tackles, including a sack, and he also set up a tackle for loss that Pat Jones II finished for one of his two TFLs on the day.
The "Edge Department" provided an edge for the team Sunday. Will they be able to build on that next week against the Chiefs and Patrick Mahomes?
Finally, we break the 0-fer streak! Started out and it looked like we were up to our old tricks. All of the issues needing to be fixed, had not been. Turnovers, not fixed. Defensive struggles, not fixed. Red zone & third-down efficiency, not fixed. Then the 2-minute meltdown [at the end of the first half]. Third quarter, we get the fumble return, and it was game on! Defense played well in the second half, but still gave up huge plays. It seems when they're playing 8-10 yards off the ball, we're allowing the receivers to run routes undisrupted. The tackle is made, but after giving up first downs? When we played tight, we got the sack. We won, and Kirk had his worst day of the year. He was off. It's good to win even though it wasn't pretty. KC next week will be tough. We have to play flawlessly. Execution has to improve, or I fear 1-4 is inevitable.
— J.B. Brunet
J.B. highlights plenty of reasons why I told someone at halftime it felt like the Vikings were stuck in the same game for 14 quarters.
Every interception has its own story, which doesn't make them easier to stomach, for you, Cousins or anyone else. Cousins addressed the first one within his first few words after the game.
"Huge to get a win. Anyway we can get it," Cousins said. "Very, very, frustrating to throw that interception. Poor read and then when you are late to the flat then the ball is left inside when you are late. Then it compounds. Obviously, the place on the field, [Sam Franklin, Jr.] is able to take it back for a touchdown. Very disappointing play by me. Just have to give a lot of credit to our defense for the way they kept us in the game, made plays, scored a touchdown, created pressure."
The second one, Cousins was trying to wait patiently in the pocket, but his arm got hit as he through the ball and it fluttered into the hands of Kamu Grugier-Hill.
Cousins' stat line wasn't pretty, but most importantly, he didn't get rattled. When given a free play after the Panthers jumped offsides, he fired a dart to Jefferson in a 1-on-1 for the 30-yard touchdown.
Red zone was 1-for-2, but the miss was the first pick. Third down was just plain woeful at 1-for-8. That percentage has to improve next week for the Vikings to do a better job of sustaining drives. Minnesota had the football for just 21:31 and ran only 44 plays, compared to 68 plays for Carolina.
When a team does have a lead, it can afford to give up first downs and completions if it wants to avoid anyone getting over the top of the defense. I thought the Vikings mixed and matched pre-snap looks and coverages and certainly maximized one part of Smith's game that makes him so incredible.
View postgame celebration photos from the Vikings 21-13 win over the Panthers in Week 4 of the 2023 season.
Another week, same mistakes and no progress. Is this a creative way of tanking?
Good luck with that.
I think this message came in at halftime. Teams can have bad games or bad stretches within contests, but this was the best job the 2023 Vikings have been at emerging from an unsightly sequence with some momentum-swaying plays.
As I mentioned, at halftime it felt like Bill Murray smashing his alarm clock in the umpteenth different way in Groundhog Day.
Guess that's fitting that Smith, whose birthday is Groundhog Day, was so key in putting an end to the madness.
Great stop on defense at the end for the win. More problems for the Vikings inside the 10-yard line heading in — a pick 6 and then a fumbled snap? More ineffectiveness heading into halftime with Kirk throwing a second pick. The defense continues to give up long ball-controlling drives, especially the one in the fourth quarter when the game was on the line — not good. Here are my 3 Ups and 3 Downs for the game:
1. Nice running by both Mattison and Akers.
2. A three-and-out for our defense to start the second half. Nicely done.
3. Sack of Young and Wonnum's fumble recovery for a TD and our first lead of the game.
1. More inside the 10-yard line red zone offensive ineffectiveness. TD taken off the board due to penalty and then Kirk throws a 99-yard pick 6. Also, fumbled inside the 10 going in for a TD on our third possession.
2. More end of the first half poor play — Kirk gets picked heading in from the 20 and of course the defense absolutely cannot get a stop when it matters most and gives up yet another last second end of the half score. So sad.
3. Offense, let us keep the Panthers in the game halfway through the fourth quarter — second-and-1 and we end up punting?? Second down run for loss and another 30-yard sideline pass for incomplete on third. Inexplicable and foolish.
I hope we can figure a way to get out of this funk. So happy we pulled out a victory. Looking forward to the Chiefs.
— Jeff Ludwig
We've covered a few things that overlapped with Jeff's comments, so I'll just emphasize that the Vikings are going to have to eliminate mistakes in the red zone.
I'll also note that Vikings.com's Ellis Williams and I looked at each other in disbelief that a 9-yard run on a first down was followed with a punt three snaps later (without an offensive penalty). The Vikings have reasons for why they like certain plays every week, but even with Cousins' usual accuracy and Jefferson's excellence before, during and after a catch, it seemed like a lower percentage throw for third-and-2 than the route the duo connected on for a fourth-and-2 in the second quarter.
View game action photos from he Vikings at Panthers Week 4 at Bank of America Stadium
Kwesi [Adofo-Mensah] is on his way to going down as one of the WORST GM's ever!!
Lewis Cine can't get on the field, and we passed up so many impact players!! Remember, we had the 12th pick overall and traded DOWN and have ZERO to show for it!!
Jordan Davis, who would look great as a run stopper, was picked 13th!!
[Trent] McDuffie, starting corner for the world champion Chiefs went 21!!
We haven't had a really good guard in such a long time, and the Chargers starting guard against us, Zion Johnson, went 17th.
No one is an impact player from last year's draft, and other than [Jordan] Addison, this year's draft is also a bust.
The BIGGEST mistake was Not Signing J.J.!!
He could be our next [Percy] Harvin or [Stefon] Diggs and want to leave.
We now see last year was a fluke, and we haven't done anything for our future!!
— Bryan Abrams
While there are documented players picked between the original selection who are already making significant impacts (mostly at non-safety positions), it's also unrealistic to judge Cine, who is behind Smith, Camryn Bynum and Josh Metellus, against players who didn't suffer broken legs a year ago. Cine was out this week because of a hamstring injury. We'll see how long that lingers, but when that clears, I'm not sure which safety people would like the Vikings to take off the field?
Drafts usually take a little more time to fully evaluate, especially if looking at 2023, when the Vikings only had six selections.
I know a lot of people are so worried about the Jefferson extension not happening yet, but I'm not thinking about it when I wake up every morning. He's under contract this year, and next under the team's fifth-year option. Minnesota also could go the franchise tag route after that, but I think all sides are just continuing to work on the deal.
It's good to be positive about the team, the coaches and all but has [O'Connell] ever been critical of anything?
Could he be calling out players in closed meetings? I think there are players that need that.
I would like to see in the 2024 draft the Vikings pick the best edge rusher first and the best guard second. Then in all the rest of the picks more defensive linemen.
Do you think that [O'Connell and Mensah] know the foundation of winning teams starts with the offensive and defensive lines?
— Gill Sorg in New Mexico
Closing here with a couple of interesting thoughts from Gill.
I think O'Connell understands that throwing a player under the bus while at a podium doesn't really fix the root of a problem. I'd also imagine that he's tailoring his individual conversations based on what he knows about the player.
He was pretty blunt last week when talking about the terrible ball security.
As for the linemen being important, I concur. Minnesota has placed draft resources toward offensive linemen in multiple years. The Vikings, however, haven't used much draft capital toward front seven defenders.