CHARLOTTE, N.C. – Kicker Greg Joseph was once again positioned to be the Vikings savior, and more specifically on Sunday a savior for their underperforming special teams, at the end of the 34-28 overtime win against the Panthers.
Coach Mike Zimmer braced himself with hands on his knees during Joseph's 47-yard field-goal attempt — his third kick in the final seconds of regulation in the past five games. Zimmer likely had some choice words after Joseph pushed the attempt wide right, but he wasn't blaming the kicker after escaping with a win.
"I'm not very patient, but that was a tough wind," said Zimmer, referring to light but swirling winds in Bank of America Stadium. "Kicking into that wind, and I knew those two were right on the edge that he missed, I think, but he's done a good job. I don't fault him for those."
Joseph had been a lone bright spot for special teams, making his first four kicks before his last two misses loomed large in a tight game. Kickoff and punt return phases were equally erratic for the Vikings.
"We had one poor punt. We had a blocked punt," Zimmer said. "We had one good return on a kickoff, and then we had one not-so-good return on a kickoff. The disappointing part early in the game was we put the ball on the ground."
Running back Ameer Abdullah had the franchise's longest kickoff return, 45 yards, in over three years. But punt returner Dede Westbrook fumbled once and bobbled two other returns. Corner Kris Boyd recovered the fumble, but he was one of two players flagged for holding on other punt returns.
The biggest blunder came when punter Jordan Berry entered in the third quarter. The Panthers rushed with an interior twist, sending linebacker Frankie Luvu looping behind a teammate and up the middle. He made it through untouched past defensive end Stephen Weatherly, who appeared to miss the block, before blocking Berry's punt into a Panthers touchdown.
"It was big," Zimmer said. "It was a big hole."
But the issues were covered up with a win — for one afternoon, at least.
And after years of missed kicks and kicker changes, Zimmer is hesitant to make Joseph's misses anything more than a rough ending. Joseph has made 13 of 17 field-goal attempts [76.5%] this season, enough for Zimmer and teammates to maintain their confidence a week after Joseph was carried off the field in jubilation after a game-winning kick against the Lions.
"We've always got to rally around him," receiver K.J. Osborn said. "He missed it. OK, let's go over and clap him up. It's obviously disappointing. I don't make every catch. But we're still behind him, because he's our guy."