Written by Gianna Forbis and Clark Gerber, contributors for WRAL SportsFan.
During the game, filled with both impressive moments and unpredictability, the Carolina Panthers appeared to make small progress but then suffered a significant setback on Sunday afternoon.
The Panther’s record fell to 0-4 after losing 21-13 to the Minnesota Vikings.
At the end of the first half, Carolina was ahead of the Vikings with a score of 13-7. However, in the second half, Minnesota scored 14 points without a response from the Panthers’ offense which struggled.
On the day, Bryce Young had a completion rate of 25 out of 32 passes for 204 yards, with zero touchdowns and zero interceptions.
Despite improved performance from Young compared to his first two games, the inexperienced quarterback lost possession of the ball when he was tackled by Vikings safety Harrison Smith during the third quarter.
The Vikings’ first lead of the game was secured when linebacker DJ Wonnum picked up the fumble and ran it in for a touchdown.
Thanks to the impressive performances of RB Chuba Hubbard and WR Adam Thielen, the team showed promise in the first and second quarters.
Avoid blaming the defense.
The Panthers’ defense started off strong in the opening quarter. Safety Sam Franklin demonstrated his skill by intercepting Kirk Cousins and returning it for a touchdown, giving Carolina an early lead.
The Panthers’ defense was able to secure their second interception of the day, thanks to LB Kamu Grugier-Hill. This helped them score a field goal before halftime and maintain their strong defensive presence against Minnesota.
For most of the game, the Panthers’ defense applied pressure and consistently forced Cousins out of the pocket.
Cousins to Jefferson
In the second quarter, Kirk Cousins and Justin Jefferson established a strong connection, which proved to be the determining factor for the Panthers defense.
Cousins threw a pass to Jefferson, resulting in a touchdown in the endzone five minutes into the second quarter. Later on, Cousins and Jefferson successfully completed another pass, this time for a 30-yard gain, at the end of the third quarter.
The connection could not be halted, and Jefferson made sure Carolina’s secondary was aware.
This afternoon, Jefferson made six receptions for a total of 85 yards and scored two touchdowns.
Bryce Young is currently in the process of improving as a quarterback, which involves making important choices.
Although he made impressive conversions on fourth down and appeared more sure of himself, a few errors ultimately led to their loss.
During the third quarter fumble return, it appeared that Young was unsure whether to pass the ball or simply accept the sack.
In the latter part of the match, with less than two minutes left, Young and his offensive line were overpowered by the defense of the Vikings.
Young was taken down behind the line of scrimmage a total of five times during the game, with Vikings linebacker Marcus Davenport responsible for two of those sacks on Carolina’s last possession.
On October 8 at 1:00 p.m., the Panthers will face the Detroit Lions at Ford Field.
Harrison Smith, Vikings’ safety, records his third sack of the game on Bryce Young.
The Vikings’ LB D.J. Wonnum scored a touchdown after recovering a fumble from the Panthers, with 3 minutes and 58 seconds remaining. Then, WR Justin Jefferson caught a 30-yard touchdown pass (kicked by G. Joseph) with only 30 seconds left. The crowd went wild when Bryce Young threw a pass to Adam Thielen for a successful 3rd down conversion. The final score was Vikings 21, Panthers 13.
The Panthers scored a field goal from 26 yards out (kicked by E. Pineiro) at 14:56. The Vikings responded with a 4-yard receiving touchdown by WR Justin Jefferson (kicked by G. Joseph) at 9:43. The Panthers’ LB Kamu Grugier-Hill intercepted the ball at 0:46, leading to a career-long 56-yard field goal (kicked by E. Pineiro) that was successful. A strong pass from Cousins to Jefferson for 22 yards helped the Vikings convert on a 4th & 1 and start a new drive. Another connection between the two players resulted in a touchdown for the Vikings in the second quarter. The score was Panthers 13, Vikings 7.
The Carolina Panthers scored a touchdown with a 99 yard interception return by Sam Franklin, followed by a successful extra point kick by E. Pineiro. The key plays leading up to this included a pass interference penalty on Franklin, giving the Minnesota Vikings good field position, and a later interception by Franklin which turned into a touchdown for the Panthers. The Vikings were able to make a 4th down conversion with Chuba Hubbard and a 22 yard catch by Adam Thielen, but ultimately had to settle for a field goal. At this point, the score was Panthers 10, Vikings 0.
The Carolina Panthers have put themselves in a significant disadvantage at the beginning of the 2023 season. Their upcoming opponent is also facing a similar challenge.
The Minnesota Vikings, along with the Panthers, had high hopes for reaching the playoffs this season, but have struggled in the beginning with a 0-3 record.
According to historical data, it will be extremely difficult for either team to make a comeback in the postseason race at this stage. However, another defeat on Sunday would make it nearly impossible.
In the history of the NFL, only one team has reached the playoffs after beginning the season with a record of 0-4. This team was the 1992 San Diego Chargers.
This weekend’s game carries even more importance due to that basic fact, but the Panthers are being cautious not to alter their strategy too drastically.
The head coach, Frank Reich, stated that while they are urgent, they are not desperate. He emphasized the importance of avoiding a desperate mindset and staying true to their process and players, knowing that they are giving their all in the current moment.
Staying composed and stable will be crucial for quarterback Bryce Young, who seems to be on course to begin playing again after being sidelined for one week due to an ankle injury.
The coaches have praised the rookie’s performance during practice this week, which Young credits to his unwavering focus on details even during his absence.
“If you are unable to attend a practice or game, it is not simply a mental break,” stated Young. “You should still try to engage and participate from the sidelines, maintaining the same level of preparation and focus by reviewing and observing the same material to stay in the routine.”
Young will require assistance from his rushing offense to combat the highly aggressive Vikings defense.
Last week in Seattle, the Panthers only managed to gain 44 rushing yards on 14 attempts, causing Andy Dalton to throw a career-high 58 passes.
Carolina will need to maintain balance and stick to their schedule in order to be successful this week, avoiding a repeat of past mistakes.
Offensive coordinator Thomas Brown expressed the need for improvement in our early game runs and reducing offensive penalties. He emphasized the difficulty of staying on track and calling plays when we are behind due to penalties.
Game Strategy: Panthers vs. Vikings
1. Timely turnovers
The Vikings have committed the most turnovers in the league this season, with a total of 9. These turnovers have either resulted in lost points for Minnesota or gained points for their opponents. On Sunday, the Panthers must capitalize on the Vikings’ mistakes by forcing at least two significant turnovers.
2. Beat the blitz
Last week, the Panthers faced 36 instances of pressure from the opposing quarterback during their game in Seattle. In contrast, the Vikings aggressively rushed the passer on over 85% of pass plays when they played against the Chargers. To counter Minnesota’s strong pass rush, Carolina must effectively run the ball and make precise, timely throws against the pressure. If Bryce Young is sacked two times or fewer, it will greatly contribute to their victory.
3. Contain Justin Jefferson
The All-Pro for Minnesota, who has achieved this title three times, is widely regarded as the top receiver in the league. This is evident by his leading number of 458 receiving yards in the NFL. He has a remarkable 12 receptions of 20 yards or more, while no other receiver has more than seven. Despite facing challenges with their defensive unit, Carolina must strategize to limit Jefferson’s yards to under 100 and make someone else on the team step up to secure a win.
Numbers to know
The Panthers have lost to the Vikings in 4 out of their last 5 encounters. The most recent game was in 2021, where Minnesota emerged victorious in Charlotte with a game-winning touchdown catch by K.J. Osborn in overtime.
Adam Thielen, the top receiver for the Panthers and a native of Minnesota, spent 10 years playing for the Vikings from 2013 to 2022. He is currently on track to make 113 catches this season, which would equal his personal best.
Miles Sanders, the running back, has experienced a decrease in his performance each week of the current season. In the previous week, Sanders only managed an average of 2.7 yards per carry, compared to 3.1 yards per carry in Week 2 and 4.0 yards per carry in Week 1.
Both teams are struggling with protecting their quarterbacks. The Vikings have allowed a 35% pressure rate on their passing plays, resulting in 8 sacks. The Panthers have a higher pressure rate of 43%, leading to 9 sacks.
Carolina has the highest number of penalties in the NFL, receiving an average of 9.3 flags per game. On the other hand, Minnesota has the third lowest penalty count in the league with an average of 4.7 per game.