CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Kirk Cousins threw two touchdown passes toand D.J. Wonnum returned Bryce Young's fumble 51 yards for a momentum-changing touchdown, and the Minnesota Vikings held on to beat the Carolina Panthers 21-13 on Sunday for their first win of the season.
Cousins overcame two interceptions, including one that was returned 99 yards for a touchdown by Sam Franklin, and finished with 139 yards passing. Jefferson beat a Carolina secondary playing without three starters for 85 yards on six catches.
Alexander Mattison ran for 95 yards and Harrison Smith had three sacks for the Vikings (1-3), including the one that led to Wonnum's score.
Bryce Young was 25 of 32 for 204 yards for Carolina.
The winless Panthers (0-4) find themselves in a tremendous hole. Of the 164 teams that have started 0-4 in the Super Bowl era, only the 1992 Chargers went on to make the playoffs.
The momentum of the game turned late in the third quarter when Smith raced into the Carolina backfield untouched and stripped Young of the football from behind. The ball bounced off Young's leg and careened further into the backfield before Wonnum scooped it up and scored.
The Vikings sacked Young on third down on the ensuing series and Cousins found Jefferson along the left sideline for a 30-yard touchdown strike to give the Vikings a 21-13 lead.
The Panthers attempted to rally, reaching the Vikings 9 with less than two minutes remaining, but Smith sacked Young twice on the final three plays, including on fourth-and-goal at the 18, to seal the win. Minnesota finished with five sacks, all coming in the second half.
Franklin, a special teams standout who started in place of the injured Xavier Woods, intercepted Cousins' pass intended for K.J. Osborn near the left pylon and went the length of the field to give Carolina an early 7-0 lead.
The INT return was the longest in Panthers history and came just three plays after Franklin was flagged for pass interference, setting the Vikings up with a first-and-goal.
The Vikings entered the game minus-7 in the turnover differential and Cousins' two early picks left them in a 13-7 hole at halftime.
Vikings: None reported.
Panthers: Cornerback Donte Jackson left the game in the first half with a shoulder injury and did not return. The Panthers entered the game without two other defensive backs in Jaycee Horn and Xavier Woods.
Vikings: Host Kansas City on Sunday.
Panthers: At Detroit on Sunday.
Harrison Smith's 4th down sack seals Vikings' 1st win
Harrison Smith's third sack of the day all but sealed the Vikings' win over the Panthers.
Smith had two of his sacks during the Vikings' goal-line stand on the Panthers' final drive.
The Vikings will win 21-13 and move to 1-3.
Jefferson's 2nd TD puts Vikings up 21-13
The Vikings appear to have turned things around. After a defensive touchdown gave them the lead, the offense added one of their own on a 30-yard strike from Kirk Cousins to Justin Jefferson.
It was Jefferson's second touchdown of the day.
The Vikings lead 21-13 at the start of the fourth quarter.
Vikings take lead on fumble recovery TD
The Vikings have their first lead of the day after Harrison Smith knocked the ball out of Panthers quarterback Bryce Young's hands and D.J. Wonnum returned it for a touchdown.
Minnesota leads 14-13 in the third quarter.
Field goal gives Panthers 13-7 lead at halftime
The Panthers turned their second takeaway into three points and take a 13-7 lead into halftime.
Another interception ends promising Vikings drive
The Vikings looked like they were primed to score some points before halftime, but Kirk Cousins was hit as he threw on first down, leading to an easy interception.
Leading 10-7, the Panthers may steal some more points before the break.
Justin Jefferson TD makes it 10-7
The Vikings nearly had another goal-line disaster on a bad snap exchange, but Kirk Cousins managed to keep the ball.
One play later, Cousins hit Jefferson in the end zone for a score. It's now 10-7 in the second quarter.
Panthers lead 10-0 after Vikings' defense stands firm at goal line
The Panthers had no trouble driving down the field, but in the red zone, the Vikings' defense stood firm and held them to a field goal.
Carolina leads 10-0 in the second quarter.
Cousins throws pick-6 at goal line, Panthers lead 7-0
The Vikings' first drive looked promising, but after a penalty called back a Justin Jefferson touchdown, Kirk Cousins threw an interception at the goal line that the Panthers returned all the way for a touchdown.
The Vikings will get the ball back down 7-0 early.
Center Garrett Bradbury inactive again
Vikings center Garrett Bradbury will miss a third straight game due to injury.
Bradbury is inactive for Sunday's matchup with the Panthers, along with safety Lewis Cine, quarterback Jaren Hall, tight end Nick Muse and defensive lineman Khyiris Tonga. Pass rusher Marcus Davenport will be active for just the second time this season.
The Panthers also released their inactive list: running back Raheem Blackshear, wide receiver Jonathan Mingo, safety Xavier Woods, cornerback Sam Webb, linebacker Deion Jones and offensive tackle David Sharpe.
The big question: Will Taylor Swift attend Chiefs-Vikings?
After the Panthers, the Vikings will return home to those the Kansas City Chiefs.
The big question on everyone's mind is, of course, whether Taylor Swift will attend that game to cheer on her new supposed beau Travis Kelce.
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