Minnesota Vikings improve to 3-3 with 34-28 OT win over the Carolina Panthers (3-3), head into Bye
Let's take a look at what Birdman's Blog said back on September 20th after falling to the Cardinals to start the season 0-2: "So the Vikings are 0-2 after 2 CLOSE road games... time to move on. We still have 15 games left on the schedule and I believe it becomes imperative that we tighten up our boot strings and focus on winning at least 3 of the next 4 games. That would put us at 3-3 with 11 games remaining on the schedule. The next 4 games include Home vs the Seahawks (W), Home versus the Browns (L), Home vs the Lions (W), and Away vs the Panthers (W). I truly believe this team has the ability to put together a nice run here and get back to how we know our Vikings can play!" Weird! As you can see, if you have been following Birdman's Blog and watching the Vikings games, then you know this is exactly how the season has played out!
Both the Vikings and Panthers started out slow with a halftime score of only 12-10. This didn't stop the Vikings offense from ending the game with impressive offensive numbers after QB Cousins threw the game winning touchdown in OT to WR KJ Osborn. Osborn walked the game off like a true pro, diving through the pylon, tossing the ball to the stands, tossing his helmet onto the sidelines, and then celebrating with a reverse LeBron James as the impressive 4K camera got the close up of the entire moment. RB Dalvin Cook had his usual outing of 140 yards and 1 TD. The Panthers came into the game toting the NFL's top passing defense, but that didn't stop Mr. .500 QB Cousins from having a good game to get the Vikings back to .500. Cousins went 33-48 for 373 passing yards and 3 touchdowns and he was able to spread it around to his top targets very nicely:
WR Adam Thielen: 11 catches for 126 yards and 1 TD
WR Justin Jefferson: 8 catches for 80 yards
WR KJ Osborn: 6 catches for 78 yards and 1 TD (the game winner)
TE Tyler Conklin: 3 catches for 71 yards
Two under-appreciated players for the Vikings really stood out for me. First, Offensive Lineman Christian Darrisaw, the Vikings top draft pick, finally made his first start after battling some early season injuries and ABSOLUTELY dominated in both run and pass blocking all day. This steady protection on the left side of the line gave Cousins time to make passes and sprung a number of big running plays for Dalvin Cook. Second, Fullback CJ Ham is always great in run blocking, but thanks to a wonderful block by Darrisaw, we got to see the Fullback go RUMBLIN' AND BUMBLIN' AND STUMBLIN' for a huge, key 30 yard run in the second half on a drive right after the Panthers had taken a 17-12 lead on the Vikings. Something about seeing a Fullback run for a huge gain just gets the fans and the entire team pumped up and gives that feeling that we aren't going to lose.
The Panthers were without Christian McCaffrey (their best player) for the the 3rd straight game, but key plays by their defense and special teams led to multiple touchdowns and ultimately forced the game into OT. The Vikings had an opportunity to win the game with a 47 yard field goal, but K Greg Joseph was unable to convert. The Vikings won the coin toss and Cousins was able to keep the ball away from the Panthers and throw the game winning touchdown on the first drive of OT.
In my preview I had predicted: I see this game staying close throughout ultimately ending in a Vikings 29-23 victory and getting back to .500 with 11 games remaining on the schedule. ... Pretty darn close again! The Vikings head into a much needed Bye Week as they have quite the difficult schedule ahead of them. After the Bye, their next 6 games include the Cowboys (5-1), the Ravens (5-1), the Chargers (4-2), the Packers (5-1), the 49ers (2-3), and the Lions (0-6). If they can go 3-3 or 4-2 in these next 6 games, they will be putting themselves in a very nice position heading into the season's final stretch and hopefully grabbing a playoff spot! Go Vikings!