1 Vikings Play Saved the Season
The Minnesota Vikings pulled off a victory, their first one in the 2023 season, in Week 4. Facing the first overall pick of April’s draft, the Carolina Panthers fell victim to the Vikings, although Kevin O’Connell’s unit once again didn’t play a clean game. Now sitting at 1-3, the standings are looking a lot better than earlier on Sunday when the group was still winless.
1 Vikings Play Saved the Season
Another sloppy performance, the Vikings turned the ball over a couple of times. Kirk Cousins threw a pick 6 close to the opponent’s endzone and Carolina’s defender Sam Franklin returned the ball for a touchdown. A brutal blow for a team that put together a solid drive but shooting themselves in the foot has been the theme all year for the offense.
In the second quarter, Kirk Cousins got hit during a throw and the ball floated into the hands of linebacker Kamu Grugier-Hill, leading to another Panthers field goal that put the Vikings in a six-point hole at halftime. A careless offensive output and a defense that somehow couldn’t stop the connection of Bryce Young and Adam Thielen led to a very possible scenario of the Vikings sinking to 0-4 and possibly blowing up the roster in an attempt to secure a high draft choice, rather than fighting for a playoff spot and seeding.
That scenario was very real for a moment and the likelihood even increased when the offense ended another drive with a Ryan Wright punt to start the third quarter. Quarterback Bryce Young led another effective drive all the way to Minnesota’s 26-yard line.
Then Young dropped back to pass and witnessed a Brian Flores masterclass. He lined up seven defenders at the line of scrimmage and actually brought six of them on a blitz. A staple of his defense, lining up as many guys on the line as possible and having the offense guessing.
Harrison Smith came off the edge unblocked and hit Young who tried to escape the pocket with his legs. He lost the ball in the process, edge rusher D.J. Wonnum picked it up in a rare lucky bounce for the 2023 Vikings and returned the ball for a touchdown. The purple took a one-point lead after the subsequent extra point.
Momentum is a commonly referenced word in football and that play was a true momentum changer. The Vikings had a few of those last season, for example when Dalvin Cook scored a big rushing touchdown to ignite the comeback win over the Buffalo Bills when the game had already felt like a losing cause.
Smith has been one of the greatest players to put on a purple and gold uniform but looked like he had lost a step earlier in the season. Of course, that is not an unusual thing for a 34-year-old player. But Sunday’s performance was a vintage Smith outing, a player that is dangerous at and behind the line of scrimmage but also in coverage. He fired up three sacks, including the game-clincher in the final Panthers drive, and 14 tackles.
Wonnum was another criticized player in the first three games as he couldn’t provide the desired help in both the passing and running games. But the coaching staff stuck with their fourth-year player despite Marcus Davenport’s comeback, often lining up three pass rushers. He logged six total tackles, a sack, and one of three Vikings touchdowns.
The 2023 Vikings don’t appear to be a contending team, and they surely aren’t contending until they get rid of the turnover bug. But if they do fix their issues and make a significant run this year, that one play will be the one folks will reference as the turning point of the season.
Janik Eckardt is a football fan who likes numbers and stats. The Vikings became his favorite team despite their quarterback at the time, Christian Ponder. He is a walking soccer encyclopedia, loves watching sitcoms, and Classic rock is his music genre of choice. Follow him on Twitter if you like the Vikings: @JanikEckardt