The Vikings and a healthy contingent of Vikings fans traveled to Carolina on Sunday and experienced the first Vikings’ win of the season. It was an ugly win as the Vikings added two turnovers to their league-leading total, the first an egregiously bad pass by Kirk Cousins that turned into an easy pick-six for the Panthers. The second turnover was also an interception after Cousins was hit as he threw, resulting in a floating pop-fly and another easy interception for the Panthers.
But while the Vikings’ pass game was off-sync all afternoon (they had only 130 passing yards), the run game and defense especially were able to step up enough to secure the Vikings’ first victory, 21-13.
Another Disjointed Effort
The Vikings won, but it was far from their best effort. In addition to the turnovers, the Vikings’ offense struggled in the passing game and converted only one third down all afternoon. They had only 44 snaps on offense and possessed the ball for just 21:31 of the sixty minute game. The ended with just 265 total yards, two touchdowns and two turnovers. They were helped by a bad defensive pass interference penalty against Jordan Addison on a deep ball on the first drive.
But while the Vikings managed just 130 passing yards, the ground game was good for 135 yards and nearly six yards per carry. Alexander Mattison had 17 carries for 95 yards (5.6 yards per carry) while newcomer Cam Akers looked impressive with 40 yards on 5 carries - an 8.0 average. He added a couple receptions for 11 yards as well.
The Vikings defense posted their best game of the season, limiting the Panthers to 13 points and 232 yards, while scoring a touchdown themselves on a strip sack by Harrison Smith that was recovered by DJ Wonnum and taken to the house. They allowed just 3.4 yards per play while tolling five sacks for 55 yards lost- including the last one to close out the game.
This was Marcus Davenport’s first real game (he played a handful of snaps Week Two) and his impact was felt on both run and pass defense. He really seemed to solidify the Vikings’ defensive front. He officially had one sack and one tackle-for-loss, although he at least contributed to another sack.
Cam Akers also had an impressive debut as a Viking, even though he didn’t play that much. He averaged eight yards per carry and looked good doing so. He has a different, more deliberate style compared to Mattison, and looks like he could be a significant contributor going forward. Kirk Cousins also mentioned Akers as a positive for morale in the huddle.
Big Game by an Old Timer
But in addition to some good performances from newcomers, the Vikings got a big game from their longest tenured player- Harrison Smith. He was clearly the player of the game for the Vikings, leading the team in tackles and sacks and producing the two biggest plays - a strip sack that led to a defensive touchdown and the final sack of Bryce Young to close out the game. Smith had been largely quiet over the first three games, but ended the afternoon with 8 tackles, 6 assists, 3 sacks, 3 QB hits, and a forced fumble.
Victory Comes Against a Struggling Panthers Team
While it was an important and belated first win, it was also a victory over a struggling, rebuilding, and winless Panthers team with a rookie quarterback in just his third start. The Vikings beat the spread, but it was hardly a convincing win. The Vikings continued to beat themselves early, falling behind 10-0 and 13-7 at halftime. They lost the turnover battle for the fourth straight game, had only one third down conversion, 265 yards and 14 points on offense, and held the ball just a third of the game and just over six minutes in the second half. That’s not a recipe for winning most of the time.
The success of the running game came against one of the worst run defenses in the league. The defensive success came against a team ranked 30th in yards per attempt, a rookie quarterback in just his third start, and not much of a supporting cast. What worked today may not work as well against better teams.
It was good for the Vikings to find a way to win, but they’re still underachieving overall and a lot of improvement is still needed. The Vikings play the Chiefs at home next Sunday, and they’ll need to play a lot better to beat the world champions. They can do it. They can beat the Chiefs. But they need to stop the turnovers and execute better. They’re making some progress defensively, but the offense still needs to put together the dominant performance they’re capable of delivering.
Official game book here.