1. Joseph joins sack parade Linval Joseph was the best nose tackle in football when he went down with turf toe late last season. He might be even better this season because he’s added a pass rushing burst that’s earning him some more reps. With another sack on Sunday, he now has three in three games. His career high is four. “There’s only two ways you can go in this league,” he said. “You can get better or you can get worse. Right now, I’m still climbing up that steppingstone.” Linebacker Chad Greenway said he thinks Cam Newton was more reluctant to run after rolling his ankle on a second-quarter sack by Joseph. Newton left the field for one snap before returning. “Cam’s a big guy,” said Joseph, who’s bigger. “I just grabbed him and he rolled his ankle. I’m glad he came back.”

2. Clemmings passes first test

T.J. Clemmings played better in his first start at left tackle than he did in 17 starts as a rookie right tackle a year ago. Unofficial press box charting had him giving up only one pressure in 30 quarterback dropbacks while getting help only two times from a tight end or a running back. “That’s my job,” said Clemmings, the first Viking other than Matt Kalil to start at left tackle since the start of the 2012 season. “From time to time, I’ll get help. But most of the time, the responsibility is going to be on me.” The highlight for the Vikings’ left-side protection came on the opening drive of the second half. Sam Bradford completed 6 of 6 passes for 54 yards and a touchdown with Clemmings at left tackle and backup Jeremiah Sirles at left guard for Alex Boone, who was injured in the second quarter. Sirles and Clemmings played with veteran coordination on that key drive. “It was a good test for me,” Clemmings said. “We’ll move on from there as far as whether I get help or no help in the future.”

3. One ray of hope for slogging run game

It’s hard to believe that a run-oriented team is 3-0 while averaging only 51 yards rushing per game and 2.1 yards per carry. With Adrian Peterson on injured reserve, Jerick McKinnon stepped in Sunday with 16 of the Vikings’ 24 carries and 45 of their 58 yards (2.8). The majority of his runs looked similar to what Peterson (1.6 average on 31 carries) was giving the Vikings. But McKinnon’s 14-yard run in the first half showed a rare favorable run look with only seven defenders in the box. McKinnon slipped through the hole and made a couple defenders miss while recording the team’s longest run of the season. “Anytime you don’t have that many bodies in the box, there’s always room to breathe and find the hole,” McKinnon said. “With Adrian, we never got that look. Maybe we’ll see more of that and take advantage of it more often.”

4. Benjamin puts up a goose egg

Kelvin Benjamin, the Panthers’ giant receiver, had a minuscule game. The team’s leading receiver caught no passes, was targeted only once and had an illegal blocking penalty that nullified a 56-yard touchdown pass that would have given the Panthers a 17-2 lead. Fozzy Whittaker’s catch and run didn’t need Benjamin’s block as three Vikings defenders whiffed on the play. “Whatever they were doing [on Benjamin] was effective,” Newton said. “We have to have answers for it so that can’t happen again. For him not to have any touches is, you know, really baffling and wowing.”

5. Newton, run game bottled up

The Vikings got eight sacks because they first took away Carolina’s league-leading running game. The Panthers entered the game averaging 4.8 yards a carry. Newton was averaging 5.4. Sunday, the Panthers averaged 3.8 per carry while Newton was held to 3.7. Throw out an 11-yard run with the Vikings up by 12 with less than three minutes left in the game, and Newton had 15 yards on six carries (2.5). “We really adjusted to their run game after the first two drives,” Greenway said. Carolina’s longest run, 12 yards, came on the first snap of the game. Its only touchdown — an easy 3-yard keeper by Newton — capped the Panthers’ second possession. “We knew what they liked to do,” Greenway said. “We kind of played the percentages and then went and played ball.”