The Vikings put their fan base on another emotional rollercoaster Sunday, narrowly escaping the Panthers 34-28 in overtime. It took everything the Vikings had left in the tank, but a late drive led by Kirk Cousins ended the game with a touchdown catch by KJ Osborn.
That’s back-to-back weeks where the Vikings walked off on an opponent that they were favored to beat. Nevertheless, Minnesota found a way to get their overall record to 3-3 heading into a much-needed bye week.
Here are five key takeaways from Sunday’s game in Charlotte:
The Vikings newfound wide receiver trio is extremely entertaining
Going into the season, the Vikings knew they had an elite wide receiver duo in Adam Thielen and Justin Jefferson. Through the first six weeks of the season KJ Osborn has proven his worth, making clutch catch after clutch catch and hauling in the game-winning touchdown against the Panthers.
The three mentioned receivers totaled 25 catches for 284 yards and two touchdowns on the day.
Cousins has continued to throw the ball to Osborn in do-or-die situations and his breakout season couldn’t have come at a better time. The trio is one of the biggest bright spots through the first six games of the season and it’s likely they’ll need to continue to have big games if the team wants to make any sort of playoff run.
Kirk Cousins continues to play well in the biggest moments
One of the biggest knocks to Cousins throughout his career has been his inability to come up clutch in big moments. That hasn’t been the case in 2021 and he should probably have more than two game-winning drives on the year.
In back-to-back weeks earlier in the year, Cousins led the Vikings down the field in Cincinnati and Arizona. Both games ended in a loss due to a Dalvin Cook fumble and a missed field goal by Greg Joseph. He’s since done the same thing over the last two weeks, with the Vikings walking off against Detroit and Carolina.
On top of playing his best football in the most meaningful time, the Vikings quarterback completed 33 of 48 attempts for 373 yards and three touchdowns on the day. There were certainly ups and downs on Sunday, some of which can be blamed on play calling, but Cousins had a great day and put the team on his back late in the game.
The Vikings defense was great, until it wasn’t
Talking about emotional rollercoaster rides, the Vikings defense has looked solid over the last two weeks until the final minutes of the game. A late 98-yard two-minute drive by Sam Darnold and company nearly sent the Vikings home with a sour taste in their mouths going into the bye week.
Bashaud Breeland had an interception on the first play from scrimmage and the Vikings recovered an additional two fumbles. Winning the turnover battle was a huge heading into Sunday’s affair, especially when the special teams unit allowed a blocked punt for a touchdown.
Mike Zimmer’s defense has bounced back after a shaky start to the year, but they’re going to have to figure out how to make critical stops later on in games. The talent is certainly there, but they’ve let teams creep back into games too frequently when the games should have been put away.
The Christian Darrisaw era has arrived in Minnesota
First-round picks are meant to play early and often, but that hasn’t been the case for the Vikings due to a lingering injury Darrisaw has battled all year. After rotating with Rashod Hill against Detroit, Darrisaw slotted in as the starter in Charlotte.
Outside of a bad play early on in the screen game, Darrisaw played well and likely cemented himself as the starter moving forward.
The offensive line wasn’t perfect by any means, but the unit’s oldest starter (Brian O’Neill) is only 26 years old. Keeping continuity up front is critical and that can now continue with Darrisaw’s good overall performance.
Special teams continue to be an issue in Minnesota
A blocked punt and two missed field goals completely flipped the script for the Vikings on Sunday. Without these miscues the Vikings would have won in stress free fashion.
Greg Joseph had a chance to win the game in regulation for the second time in as many weeks, but he pushed it to the right forcing the game into overtime.
Minnesota and special teams never seem to go together and that stayed true against the Panthers.
The season is now a third of the way done for the Vikings and they sit at .500 despite looking better, and at times worse than their record shows.
After the bye Minnesota is set to endure a brutal stretch of games, so complementary football is going to be needed. They haven’t been able to figure it out throughout the first six games and the sloppiness will expose them in the following weeks if they can’t get it figured out.
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