Edge rusher Marcus Davenport didn't start Sunday's 21-13 victory over the Panthers, but he made his presence felt and eventually played a substantial role for the Vikings.
Davenport, the former Saints defender who signed a one-year deal worth up to $13 million in Minnesota, looked recovered from the ankle injury that limited him to four snaps before Sunday. He contributed to a couple of run stops among four tackles. He also had a third-down sack and could've had another, but Panthers quarterback Bryce Young slipped from his grasp before being taken down by edge rusher D.J. Wonnum.
Davenport, who didn't play in the preseason, said he felt gassed afterward.
"Like I need some more conditioning," Davenport said. "I need to capitalize on some more plays. I felt a little tired, so I have to build that back up."
The Vikings wanted to ease in Davenport, who entered the game listed as questionable and had one full practice last week, which is why he didn't start the game, according to coach Kevin O'Connell. But Davenport was playing well without issue, so he ended up getting 43 snaps — more than 60% of the playing time.
"Once he was good," O'Connell said, "I think his workload started to ramp up a little bit."
Center Garrett Bradbury was inactive, missing his third game, after being listed as questionable. Safety Lewis Cine was ruled out earlier in the week because of a hamstring injury.
Akers joins the mix
Running back Alexander Mattison is still taking the lead in the Vikings backfield, but newcomer Cam Akers looked polished during his limited action against Carolina. Akers, who was acquired via trade from the Rams on Sept. 20, made his Vikings debut and finished with 51 yards on seven touches.
Akers got the entire second series, 10 snaps, but finished the game with just 14 snaps behind Mattison, who was still the Vikings' two-minute drill running back.
"Cam's done a great job coming in, absorbing it," O'Connell said. "There's been a lot of immediate improvement to how we're running the football."
Mattison ran for 95 yards on 17 carries. Akers chipped in 40 yards on five carries as they collectively averaged 6.1 yards per carry against the Panthers. That's despite Carolina loading up their defensive fronts, O'Connell said.
"We kind of adjusted a little bit and were able to still get some real quality run game going," he said.
Free play produces Jefferson's second TD
For all his accomplishments during the first 54 regular-season games of his career, one thing Justin Jefferson doesn't have is a large collection of multiscore games. His two-touchdown game against the Panthers was just the fifth of his career, and his first since last year's regular-season opener against the Packers.
The play that got Jefferson his second TD of the day, on a 30-yard pass from Kirk Cousins, was drawn up to produce a free play. Somewhat to the Vikings' surprise, Akers was marked a yard short of a first down, setting up a second-and-1 on the final play of the third quarter. Cousins used a hard count to draw nose tackle Shy Tuttle into the neutral zone and fired deep for Jefferson.
"We've got verticals on both sides, so it's a predetermined deal," O'Connell said. "If they're not offsides in that moment, that ball is not getting snapped, and we'll let it run all the way down. I thought it was a great cadence by Kirk, who used his voice even on the road in that moment. We're just trying to get everyone, crowd included, in a little bit of a lull so we could use that cadence. If even there's a remote possibility of somebody jumping, it's going to be a free throw to the best receiver in football."
Jefferson leaped over 5-foot-9 cornerback D'Shawn Jamison, celebrating with the you're-too-small taunt that Patrick Beverley used when he was with the Timberwolves.
"It was a 50-50 ball, and I was going to make a play on it," Jefferson said. "We definitely practice that play throughout the week, and it was great execution."
O-line doesn't change
Guard Dalton Risner, the 28-year-old veteran who signed Sept. 18, did not play on offense as the Vikings continued to start right guard Ed Ingram and left guard Ezra Cleveland.
The Vikings had Blake Brandel taking snaps at center this week, and Risner got first-team work during practices, but the team kept Austin Schlottmann at center between Ingram and Cleveland with Bradbury out again with a back injury.
Ingram didn't escape without a critical blunder. He was beaten by Panthers defensive end Yetur Gross-Matos, who hit Cousins' arm and forced the pop-fly interception late in the second quarter. Cousins only took four hits (on 22 dropbacks), but that one loomed large.
"That second interception, he's trying to give Jordan Addison a chance on a first down right there," O'Connell said. "We're trying to make a play, and we just got beat pretty immediately. So we'll take a look at that."
Star Tribune writer Ben Goessling contributed reporting from Charlotte, N.C. The Star Tribune did not send the writer of this article to the game. This was written using a broadcast, interviews and other material.