It appeared for most of Sunday’s game between the Carolina Panthers (4-8) and the Minnesota Vikings (5-6) that turnovers were going to doom the Vikings and essentially knock them out of playoff contention. They opened up the second half with two fumbles on back-to-back drives that were each returned for touchdowns. The Panthers only churned out 107 yards on 28 rushes, but they appeared to move the line of scrimmage for the majority of the game. A late touchdown to Justin Jefferson with 5:31 left cut the deficit to 24-21, and Minnesota’s season was holding on by a thread. The Panthers were forced to punt after seven plays, and it appeared that the Vikings would have a chance to at least tie the game with 2:18 left.
A Bizarre Fourth Quarter Finally Goes the Minnesota Vikings Way
Special Teams Mistakes Rear Their Ugly Head Again
Back to receive the ensuing punt was third-year wideout, Chad Beebe. He had returned in the past, but this was his first time returning in 2020 because rookie K.J. Osborn had struggled with ball-handling in recent weeks and had struggled to provide any spark all season. So, on a sloppy afternoon, it was fitting that Beebe misjudged the punt. The Panthers fell on the ball at the nine-yard line with 2:10 left, and the Vikings only had one timeout in their pocket. A touchdown would end the game, but three runs and a field goal would give the Vikings under a minute to respond.
Clock Mismanagement and Lack of Execution Continue for Carolina
The Panthers had already helped the Vikings out in their previous drive by throwing two incompletions when Minnesota only had one timeout. Following two runs that got the Panthers to the Vikings’ three-yard line on the current drive, Minnesota used their final timeout. On third-down, quarterback Teddy Bridgewater dropped back to pass and receiver D.J. Moore flashed wide open in the middle of the endzone on what appeared to be a busted coverage by the Vikings. Bridgewater rifled the pass behind Moore, though, and the pass fell incomplete while also injuring Moore in the process. Minnesota lucked out with another clock stoppage. The Panthers kicked a field goal to take a 27-21 lead with 1:51 left in the game.
The common knock on Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins has been his inability to come through in the clutch despite putting up gaudy stats. He played perhaps his best game of the season in Week 11 against the Cowboys, but with the ball in his hands on the final drive, couldn’t get the Vikings into field goal range as they fell 31-28.
On Sunday, Cousins orchestrated a masterful seven-play, 75-yard drive that took only 1:05 off the clock without the luxury of timeouts. A 25-yard pass to tight end Kyle Rudolph set Minnesota up at the Panthers’ 10-yard line. Then, two plays later, Cousins found, of all people, Chad Beebe in the back of the endzone for the tying (pending the PAT) touchdown. It was the perfect time for Beebe to score his first career touchdown, and the Panthers would get the ball back with 43 seconds left at their own 13-yard line.
The Vikings Finally Catch A Break
Bridgewater, the former first-round pick by the Vikings, had his own chance at redemption. On first down, he launched a pass to receiver Curtis Samuel for a 35-yard gain. Despite not having any timeouts, the clock stopped for Carolina because Vikings rookie cornerback Jeff Gladney was injured on the play. Two plays later, Bridgewater hit Robby Anderson near the right sideline and the Panthers clocked the ball with six seconds left at the Vikings 36-yard line. Panthers kicker Joey Slye, whose longest kick of the season was 56 yards, came in for the 54-yard attempt. As the ball left his foot, the ball hooked to the left and never had a chance. Minnesota’s playoff hopes stayed alive as Carolina’s essentially died on a day where the Panthers had every opportunity to win. For once, though, the ball bounced the Minnesota Vikings way.