Once again, the Vikings gave their fans an unnecessary heart attack by turning a double-digit lead into an unnervingly close finish. Once again, they found a way to win the game in the end and keep their season alive heading into the bye week.
The Vikings' victory over the Panthers was more impressive than their victory over the Lions. They put up 571 yards of offense on a good defense and forced three turnovers on the other side of the ball. But a nightmarish day on special teams caused issues, and the Vikings had the same issue late in the game that they did against Detroit: being overly conservative and not putting an inferior team away when they had the chance.
"We have to put our foot on their throat when we’ve got the opportunities," Mike Zimmer said.
Perhaps the Vikings should try things like not running the ball on 3rd and 8 from the Panthers' 33-yard line with an eight-point lead and three minutes left in the game. They lost yardage on that run, took a delay of game to get more room to punt, and then watched Carolina drive 96 yards for the game-tying touchdown. How about giving Kirk Cousins, who was fantastic on Sunday, the chance to get that first down and not give the Panthers a chance?
I digress. The Vikings showed some encouraging things in Charlotte, and most importantly, they've won three out of four and are back to .500 heading into the bye week.
Let's take a look at the national power rankings to see how much the Vikings have risen and what analysts think about their bizarre season so far.
Gary Gramling, SI.com: No. 13 (Up 7 spots)
I don’t know why they insist on being so conservative on offense, keeping games close that shouldn’t be close—maybe Mike Zimmer just needs to feel something again. But at this point, the Vikings are a coin flip on a weekly basis, and a few strategic tweaks from being a 10-win team.
Dan Hanzus, NFL.com: No. 14 (Up 1 spot)
The Vikings have no idea how to play a normal game. For the second straight week, Mike Zimmer's team blew a two-score lead in the final minutes against an inferior opponent, and for the second straight week, Minnesota managed to survive an epic near-collapse. Greg Joseph set off a celebration with a long field goal in Week 5; on Sunday, it was Kirk Cousins' 27-yard dime to K.J. Osborn to seal a 34-28 overtime win over the Panthers. The Vikings are strange. They feel like a team that can beat anyone ... or lose to anyone. As such, 3-3 feels about right heading into their bye. Minnesota is inconsistent, maddening ... and intriguing.
Bleacher Report Staff: No. 22 (Up 1 spot)
It hasn't been an especially attractive start to the season for the Minnesota Vikings. But after outlasting the Carolina Panthers in overtime in Week 6, the Vikings have rebounded from a 1-3 start to get back to .500 and in a tie for second place in the NFC North. It was an impressive offensive effort, and the Minnesota defense played one of its better games of the year heading into the bye week. But there's still plenty to tighten up over the off week. The Vikes face a brutal four-game gauntlet (Dallas, at Baltimore, at the Chargers, Green Bay) when the team returns to action in two weeks.
Pete Prisco, CBS Sports: No. 15 (Up 7 spots)
They've won two straight to get to 3-3 after beating the Panthers in overtime. The offense got back on track after a few so-so games, which is a good sign.
Frank Schwab, Yahoo! Sports: No. 16 (Up 9 spots)
The Vikings are the only NFL team that is a few plays from being 1-5 and a few from being 6-0. Every game but their win over the Seahawks has been tight in the final minutes. You can make a good argument that the Vikings are secretly good, but it would be nice if they weren't trying to blow every game.
Vinnie Iyer, Sporting News: No. 16 (Up 7 spots)
The Vikings have three OK wins (Lions, Panthers, Seahawks) to balance out three tough losses (Bengals, Cardinals, Browns) in a difficult early schedule. They get a Week 7 bye before they face the Cowboys, Ravens, Chargers and Packers (yikes) over the next month.
Nate Davis, USA Today: No. 14 (Up 4 spots)
They've returned to relevance after winning three of four. They could graduate to legitimately dangerous once a running game that has the fewest TDs (2) in the league starts humming.
Mike Florio, PFT: No. 15 (Up 1 spot)
The next two games (Cowboys, Ravens) will go a long way toward determining whether this team can get to the playoffs.
Danny Kelly, The Ringer: No. 15 (Up 6 spots)
ESPN Staff: No. 16 (Up 7 spots)
It's difficult to figure out what this Vikings team is. In Week 2, they took Arizona, the league's only remaining undefeated team, to the wire in a 34-33 loss. It was the only game in which Kyler Murray has thrown two interceptions. Weeks later, they played down and allowed a winless Detroit to hang around until the final moment, and then they did the same with Carolina in Week 6. The Vikings have done good things with terrific quarterback play from Kirk Cousins, but until they prove themselves in the five-game stretch they have coming out of the bye, it's difficult to consider them a sure thing. — Courtney Cronin
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