Takeaways: Vikings beat Panthers 21-13 for first win of 2023

The Minnesota Vikings flew home Sunday night after a potentially season-saving 21-13 win at the Carolina Panthers to earn their first win of the season.

Only six teams in NFL history have started the season 0-3 and made the playoffs. The Vikings now start that journey after avoiding an 0-4 start, which would’ve been the franchise’s first in 12 years. Kevin O’Connell praised his team postgame for not hanging their heads over early mistakes. They’re now celebrating "Victory Monday" before getting ready to host the defending Super Bowl champion Kansas City Chiefs this weekend.

That also potentially could include a visit from music star Taylor Swift.

"We’ve got the right guys in this building, coaches and players. We’re just going to go back to work this week, heck of a challenge with Kansas City coming to U.S. Bank Stadium," O’Connell said.

Here are takeaways from Sunday’s win: 


The Vikings need big days from their star players to win games, and they got them Sunday from Justin Jefferson and Harrison Smith. Jefferson had six catches for 85 yards and two touchdowns. Maybe his most important catch came just before the end of the third quarter. The Panthers jumped offsides, giving the Vikings a free play. Kirk Cousins hit Jefferson from 30 yards out for the score and a 21-13 lead.

Smith had his best game of the season thus far, highlighted by three sacks and creating a defensive touchdown. His sack fumble on Bryce Young that D.J. Wonnum took for a 51-yard touchdown swung the game in the third quarter. Smith made NFL history, becoming the first player to record at least 14 tackles, three sacks and force one fumble. The veteran can still play.


Marcus Davenport was one of the big free agent acquisitions this offseason, but Sunday was his first full game as he deals with an ankle injury. He got a game ball in Monday’s team meeting after recording four tackles, one sack and one tackle for loss. He got to Young on another play where Danielle Hunter was credited for the sack.

"Disruptive," O’Connell said. "That’s what we envisioned when we went out and got him."


It wasn’t all rainbows and unicorns in the win. The Vikings turned the ball over twice in the first half, and now have given the ball away 11 times in 16 quarters. They’re minus-9 in turnover margin. Kirk Cousins had two interceptions, the first being returned for a touchdown. The other came after he was hit and the Vikings on a potential scoring drive.

Both Cousins and O’Connell said after the game the pick-6 was "disappointing." Cousins' two interceptions turned into 10 Panthers' points.


After essentially abandoning the run in two straight games, the Vikings have now run it effectively two straight weeks. Alexander Mattison had 17 carries for 95 yards, averaging 5.6 yards per carry. In his Vikings’ debut, Cam Akers had five carries for 40 yards. The Vikings ran for 135 yards on the day and averaged nearly six yards per carry. That bodes well for the rest of the season.


Several Vikings players went out early for warm-ups to greet former teammate Adam Thielen. There were lots of smiles and hugs. As for the game, Thielen made seven catches for 78 yards. In four regular season games with the Panthers, Thielen has 27 catches for 287 yards and two touchdowns. He’s their leading receiver after being released by Minnesota last season.