All the Positives from Vikings First Win

Oct 1, 2023; Charlotte, North Carolina, USA; Minnesota Vikings wide receiver Justin Jefferson (18) signs a football after the game at Bank of America Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports.

It took four weeks, but the Minnesota Vikings finally got one in the win column, thanks to a 21-13 win over the Carolina Panthers. It was far from the perfect performance and wasn’t one to make the league stand up and take notice. Indeed, the Vikings made hard work of scraping by the now 0-4 Panthers. However, there were positives from the Vikings first win of the season.

All the Positives from Vikings First Win

Some of the mistakes from the first three weeks were still there, but for the first time this season, there were no fumbles from the Vikings — that’s a massive positive. Justin Jefferson is now adding touchdowns to his insane number of receiving yards. Jefferson dipped under 100 receiving yards for the first time this season, but two touchdowns and 85 yards from six catches is an excellent day’s work.

Defensively, the Vikings didn’t give up a touchdown and kept Bryce Young to just over 200 passing yards. They kept the Panthers leading receiver (Adam Thielen – 76 yards) below 100 receiving yards and their leading rusher (Chuba Hubbard – 41 yards) below 50 yards. An excellent day’s work.

Harrison Smith

All the Positives from
Oct 1, 2023; Charlotte, North Carolina, USA; Minnesota Vikings safety Harrison Smith (22) celebrates with linebacker Jordan Hicks (58) after a sack in the fourth quarter at Bank of America Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

He might be in the twilight of his career, but Harrison Smith showed he can still dominate a game. The Vikings safety had quite the day, accounting for 14 tackles, 2 tackles for loss, 3 sacks, 3 QB hits, and a forced fumble. It wasn’t just the numbers but the timing and impact of his big plays. The forced fumble was returned 51 yards by D.J. Wonnum for the Vikings first defensive touchdown of the season. 

Then, with the game on the line, Smith took over. The last three offensive plays from the Panthers saw Smith make a sack, put pressure on Bryce Young to force a throw-away, and then the game-sealing sack. This was the Hitman at his brilliant best and why so many believe he is certainly for the Hall of Fame. A sentiment echoed by his teammates, Josh Metellus, Brian Asamoah, and Byron Murphy on the “X App” postgame.

Marcus Davenport’s Impact on the Defense

Oct 1, 2023; Charlotte, North Carolina, USA; Carolina Panthers place kicker Eddy Pineiro (4) is tackled by Minnesota Vikings linebacker Marcus Davenport (0) during the second half at Bank of America Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jim Dedmon-USA TODAY Sports.

Sunday was a day when the much-maligned Vikings defense shined, and a big part of that was finally getting Marcus Davenport on the field. He made the kind of impact his team hoped for from Week 1, but injuries slowed his progress — the unfortunate story of his career. Davenport proved that if he can get fully healthy, he can be a difference-maker for this defense. After only managing to play on four snaps in Week 2 across the first three weeks, the Vikings were cautious with Davenport to start the game.

The edge rusher played on 45 (62%) of defensive snaps, coming in for critical downs and spending more time on the field as the game concluded. Ideally, the Vikings would want Davenport to match Danielle Hunter’s 56 (78%) defensive snaps. Davenport’s presence saw Wonnum spend less time on the field, away from the pressure of being the number two to Hunter and in a more familiar role. Wonnum had 6 tackles, 2 QB Hits, 1 tackle for loss, 1 sack, and 1 pass defended to go with his touchdown. 

It will be intriguing to see if Davenport is on the injury report this week. If the former Saint can remain healthy, there is potential for himself and Hunter to form a formidable partnership on the edge. As well as his playmaking ability, he provides a better balance against the run and the pass. His presence can create opportunities for others — like Harrison Smith — as opposing teams look to factor in stopping Davenport and Hunter.

The Run Game

Oct 1, 2023; Charlotte, North Carolina, USA; Minnesota Vikings running back Cam Akers (31) runs after the catch defended by Carolina Panthers safety Xavier Woods (25) during the second half at Bank of America Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jim Dedmon-USA TODAY Sports.

The Vikings run game is finally up and running, and although Alexander Mattison still led the way on Sunday, the impact of Cam Akers was most noticeable. Neither back will ever be Christian McCaffrey, but they showed on Sunday that they can be an effective duo. They combined for 135 rushing yards against Carolina, the highest mark of the season so far. Mattison totaled 95 yards off 17 carries at 5.6 yards per carry. In his Vikings debut, Akers managed 40 yards off just five carries at 8.0 yards per carry.

The share of carries should even up with Akers settled into the team, and the pair should be able to provide the efficient running game the Vikings require. The trade for Akers seems to have had the desired effect, with Mattison running with more purpose and Akers hungry to get his career back on track. The run blocking particularly good from the Vikings tackles and tight ends on Sunday, and that high standard needs to remain.

A trio of important games are on the horizon, with home games against two of the best teams in football – Kansas City and San Francisco — with a trip to Chicago and the division’s basement team sandwiched in between. The Vikings need to find even more positives to get this season truly back on track.