Without Adam Thielen, the NFL’s leader in touchdown receptions, the Vikings offense didn’t seem to skip a beat as receivers combined for 21 catches, 207 yards and three touchdowns during Sunday’s 28-27 comeback win against the Panthers.
That included receiver Chad Beebe’s game-winning, 10-yard touchdown catch, the first TD of his NFL career, which atoned for a muffed fourth-quarter punt return that nearly gave away the game.
“I was glad to see him do that,” coach Mike Zimmer said. “When you play sports and you do the things that we do, everybody is going to make a mistake here and there. He’s not the only one who’s ever muffed a punt in his life.”
Rookie Justin Jefferson stepped into a leading role with a team-high 13 targets, catching seven for 70 yards and two scores. He inherited Thielen’s red-zone duties and caught TD passes of 10 and 12 yards. Second-year receiver Bisi Johnson started for Thielen and had a career-high seven catches for 74 yards.
“Obviously, we missed Adam a lot,” Beebe said, “but we did a lot of growing up [Sunday], which was awesome to see. It’ll be exciting going forward when we get Adam back.”
Thielen remains quarantined after a positive COVID test last week, forcing him to miss his first game of the season. Receivers coach Andrew Janocko returned to the sideline Sunday from the brief quarantine that led him to miss last week’s loss to the Cowboys and at least one practice.
Run defense tightens up
The Vikings’ run defense struggled early, surrendering 60 rushing yards on Carolina’s first seven carries. Issues continued in the second quarter, when the Vikings held the Panthers to 16 rushing yards on 10 carries but allowed three short-yardage conversions, including a fourth-down run.
Linebacker Eric Kendricks, who had two tackles for losses, and the Vikings fared best after halftime. They allowed only 31 rushing yards on 11 carries in the second half from a Panthers offense that averaged 4.2 yards per carry entering Sunday. That’s mostly without star running back Christian McCaffrey, who missed his ninth game because of a shoulder injury.
“Christian makes a huge difference,” Panthers coach Matt Rhule said. “but we should’ve scored more with the guys we had.”
Wonnum stands out
Rookie defensive end D.J. Wonnum again stood out with some big plays, including a third-down hit on Panthers quarterback Teddy Bridgewater, a pass deflection and a blocked 28-yard field-goal attempt by Panthers kicker Joey Slye in the third quarter.
“He continues to get better,” Zimmer said. “Got nicked up a little bit [Sunday], but he’s a kid that’s going to continue to improve. He’s got a high ceiling. He continues to work and work and work, so that’s a credit to him.”
Specialist decision looming
Long snapper Austin Cutting was a healthy scratch for the second consecutive week, and veteran Andrew DePaola seemed to have another clean game. Kicker Dan Bailey made all of his four kicks, and punter Britton Colquitt averaged 51 yards on three punts.
But a long-term decision is looming, as the Vikings have elevated DePaola from the practice squad for the maximum of two weeks, meaning he needs to be signed to the 53-man roster or he can’t play. Cutting hasn’t played since bouncing a snap on an extra-point try against the Bears on Nov. 16.