CHARLOTTE, N.C. – The Vikings defense helped quarterback Sam Darnold render the Panthers offense lifeless for much of Sunday's 34-28 overtime victory — until he unloaded a 41-yard throw from his own end zone on fourth down to revive his team.
Darnold's pass ignited the Panthers' tying drive to force overtime, a 96-yard march that appeared impossible at the onset as penalties, dropped passes and turnovers plagued Carolina throughout the game. Then Panthers tight end Ian Thomas sprinted past Vikings linebacker Eric Kendricks on a go route that caught the defense off guard.
"I thought he was going to stop at the sticks," Kendricks said. "I was man-to-man on him. It was a good ball, right down the middle and away from the safety. Tried to punch it out as soon as he caught it. Sometimes that happens."
The play, and ensuing touchdown and two-point conversion, almost undid the carnage the Vikings defense wrought on Darnold. He was sacked four times, had four passes deflected — and even more dropped by his receivers — and committed two turnovers, including an interception on his first throw.
The Panthers crossed midfield only twice on 11 drives before going the length of the field to force overtime. Darnold evaded pressure and ran for 13 yards on the last series, which he'd also done on a 30-yard run in the previous drive that ended in a field goal.
"He started getting out of the pocket and running," Kendricks said. "I feel like we were strapping him up pretty well the whole day, [he] couldn't really do much on us. We were talking, communicating. Got into a nice rhythm, getting sacks and fumbles. We were doing, pretty much, most things right. [But] that's the thing about the NFL, it always comes down to the wire."
Rookie's starting debut
For the first time this season, Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins was not sacked, and the offense churned out 571 yards. So, Cousins surmised afterward, left tackle Christian Darrisaw must have played at a "high level" in his first NFL start. The first-round pick played every snap, taking over the starting job after Rashod Hill started the first five games.
Cousins helped the rookie avoid disaster, however, when Panthers edge rusher Brian Burns nearly poked the ball out of Cousins' grip in the final drive of regulation. Burns lamented his decision to go for the ball and not Cousins, who evaded the rush on a 16-yard run that helped set up a field-goal try before overtime.
"Beat [Darrisaw] off the ball easy," Burns said. "Went for the strip, should've secured the sack."
Peterson exits with cramps
The Vikings' cornerback picture evolved further in Carolina, where Cameron Dantzler rotated for a couple of series with starter Bashaud Breeland, before eventually replacing Patrick Peterson at the end of the game.
Peterson went down during Carolina's last possession while covering a deep incompletion to receiver D.J. Moore. He didn't put any weight on his right leg while Vikings trainers helped him to the sideline and onto a cart. But he avoided serious injury, according to the team, as it was announced he had cramps and could've returned.
Breeland had his first interception with the Vikings on the first play from scrimmage, stepping in front of receiver Robby Anderson to pick off a late pass from Darnold.
'I like that'
After another winning drive by Cousins, coach Mike Zimmer had his tongue firmly planted in his cheek when he mentioned — unprompted — that he celebrated with Cousins the same way the quarterback did with him after the winning field goal vs. Detroit. The moment was widely discussed after Cousins appeared to surprise Zimmer by grabbing his sweatshirt and yelling his trademark, 'You like that?'
"I did shove Kirk today, too, by the way," Zimmer said. "I shoved Kirk and said, 'I like that,' or something."
- The Vikings got creative at tight end, where they were without Ben Ellefson (knee). Center Mason Cole got work as an extra blocker, lining up next to right tackle Brian O'Neill during Dalvin Cook's 16-yard touchdown run.
- Receiver Justin Jefferson had eight catches for 80 yards, giving him nine straight games with at least five catches — the second-longest active streak in the NFL.
- Panthers receivers Terrace Marshall and Alex Erickson were forced to exit the game because of concussions.