Early in Sunday’s 22-10 win by the Minnesota Vikings over the Carolina Panthers, it looked as though it was going to be a long day. The Vikings offense was especially bad and the Panthers caught the Vikings defense early, scoring 10 points on their first two drives.
As bad as things were, it looked as though the Vikings could get blown out. They managed just 34 yards in the first half – their lowest total since 2005 – and were outgained 92-0 in the second quarter.
Quarterback Sam Bradford was struggling as badly as anyone. In the first half, he completed just 4 of 11 passes for 26 yards and a passer rating of 44.9.
He never got into his comfort zone and it was a combination of the Panthers bringing pressure with a zone defense behind it and the Vikings offense failing to get on track at any point.
“In the first half, we never really caught a rhythm,” Bradford said. “Obviously, when you’re not converting third downs, it’s hard to get in a rhythm. I’ve got to do a better job on third down, extending drives, keeping us going and trying to get into a rhythm early.”
With the defense and special teams doing its part, the offense finally caught up in the second half. On the opening possession of the third quarter, Bradford led the Vikings on a 79-yard touchdown drive – more than double the yardage gained in the first half – and put together a pair of drives that led to short field goals to extend the lead.
After struggling mightily in the first half, Bradford completed 14 of 17 passes for 145 yards and a touchdown in the second half, finally getting his feet under him and delivering passes that moved the chains and, eventually, the scoreboard.
“It was one of those games where it was a tale of two halves,” Bradford said. “You look at the second half, we were able to come out and get in that rhythm. Once we clicked and found that rhythm, it clicked and we were good the rest of the day.”
This was the second time in as many road games that the Vikings fell behind 10-0 early and had to fight and claw their way back, but head coach Mike Zimmer said there is no room for the “Bradford is still learning the offense” excuse three games in.
“I think we can put that ‘learning the offense’ away,” Zimmer said. “I think he’s good to go with all that stuff.”
Bradford wasn’t providing the ringing endorsement that Zimmer gave, but admitted he is feeling more comfortable with the offense, thanking the coaches who have spent long hours drilling him about the nuances of Norv Turner’s scheme.
“I’m still learning a few things about the offense,” Bradford said. “I don’t think I have everything down.”
While the Vikings are 3-0 for the first time since 2009, the offense can’t continue to struggle like it has early on – the team has just two points in the first quarter this season and that has come from the defense. But, with the roll the Vikings find themselves on, if the offense just does its part and picks it up when it is needed, the Vikings could be heading in the same direction that 2009 Vikings team did.
GAME DAY NOTES
- The Vikings added three more turnovers this week, giving them nine on the season. The only turnover credited to the Vikings was a fumble last week that was recovered and then fumbled again by Andrew Sendejo. The offense has yet to turn the ball over.
- The Vikings have outscored their opponents 27-0 in the third quarter.
- On the flip side, the two points the Vikings got on Danielle Hunter’s sack in the end zone were the first points they’ve scored in the first quarter all season and the team has been outscored 20-2 in the first frame this year.
- Despite the defensive dominance for much of the game, Carolina out-gained the Vikings 306-211.
- The Panthers ran for 105 yards, the 30th straight game Carolina has rushed for more than 100 yards as a team. Although, if not for a 10-yard scramble by Cam Newton in the final minute, Minnesota would have broken the streak.
- The Vikings had just 58 yards rushing on 24 carries and, through three games, have been out-rushed by 99 yards by their opponents.
- The Vikings offense continues to struggle on third down. The team converted just 3 of 12 third-down chances, while the Panthers converted 6 of 16.
- Both teams committed a lot of penalties and had several more declined. Carolina had 10 penalties for 65 yards, while the Vikings had six for 42 yards.
- Jerick McKinnon was far from dominant, rushing 16 times for 45 yards, but it represented the most rushing yards by any Viking this season.
- Bradford was efficient completing 18 of 28 passes for 171 yards, one touchdown and a passer rating of 93.0.
- Newton wasn’t just sacked eight times, he completed 21 of 35 passes for 262 yards with no touchdowns, three interceptions and a dismal passer rating of 47.6.
- After two weeks of Stefon Diggs leading the team in receiving, Kyle Rudolph caught seven passes for 70 yards and a touchdown.
- Adam Thielen caught just one pass, but it was a highlight film one-hander that got the Vikings to the 5-yard line. But, they would have to settle for a field goal.
- Xavier Rhodes came back to the lineup and spent most of the day lined up opposite Kelvin Benjamin, who not only didn’t catch a pass, but was targeted just one – and that came late in the fourth quarter.
- The Vikings had some interception milestones. Trae Waynes got his second pick in as many games, Terence Newman got his first pick of the year, extending his streak of consecutive seasons with at least one interception to 14, and Tom Johnson got his first career interception.
- Marcus Sherels scored his fourth career punt return touchdown, bringing back a punt 54 yards and putting the Vikings back in the game after being dominated in the first half.
- Of their 12 drives, the Vikings offense ran three plays or less in seven of them.
- Carolina had three offensive drives of 10 or more plays, but one of them ended in a punt and two ended with interceptions.
- The Vikings lost the time-of-possession battle by almost 10 minutes, but had the ball for 16:12 of the final 30 minutes after having it for just 8:56 of the first half.
- Eric Kendricks led the team with 12 tackles, including 10 in the first half alone.
- With eight sacks Sunday, the Vikings now have 15 for the season, including seven different players and four with two or more.
- Blair Walsh missed another extra point Sunday, which infuriated Zimmer to the point that, when the Vikings scored in the third quarter, he went for two instead of kicking the extra point. McKinnon ran the ball in for the conversion.
- The heat took a toll during the game. Everson Griffen, Kendricks and Captain Munnerlyn all left the game with cramps – Griffen being sent to the locker room in the first half to get fluids.
- Cordarrelle Patterson was used on special teams as a gunner and not only downed a ball inside the 5-yard line on a punt, but had a tackle on Ted Ginn, arriving just as the ball did.
- Guard Alex Boone was carted off the field midway through the second quarter and was replaced by Jeremiah Sirles.
- Panthers kicker Graham Gano, who missed a 50-yard field goal that would have won the season opener in Denver, hit the upright from 54 yards on an attempt that would have given Carolina a 13-2 lead.
- Newton didn’t have an incompletion until 6:30 to play in the first half after starting 7-for-7.
- The Vikings could have been blown out early, if not for a block-in-the-back penalty on Benjamin that negated a 56-yard touchdown by Fozzy Whittaker. The Panthers would have had a 17-2 lead at that point.
- Rookie wide receiver Laquon Treadwell was a healthy scratch Sunday. Jarius Wright was on the active roster in his place.
- Just three games into the season, Carolina has as many losses as it had in 19 games it played last season.