CHARLOTTE, N.C. - Vikings coach Mike Zimmer has become a bit of an expert at us-against-the world speeches.
Sometimes Zimmer has to exaggerate, but he sure didn’t need to entering Sunday’s game against Carolina at Bank of America Stadium. He told his players that nobody but the Vikings thought they had a chance.
Minnesota lost quarterback Teddy Bridgewater in the final preseason practice to a season-ending knee injury. Then last week two other top offensive players, running back Adrian Peterson (knee) and left tackle Matt Kalil (hip), underwent surgeries and were placed on injured reserve.
No big deal. All the Vikings did was dominate the Panthers in the second half in a 22-10 win over the defending NFC champions to raise their record to 3-0.
“Our team believes,’’ Zimmer said. “No one else believes, but I think our team believes. They believed that they could come in here and win.’’
With the defense the Vikings have, perhaps it would be foolish to not think they have a chance to win any game. On Sunday, they sacked Panthers star quarterback Cam Newton eight times and forced him into throwing interceptions to Trae Waynes, Terence Newman and defensive tackle Tom Johnson.
Last year’s NFL MVP was run ragged by Minnesota after he completed his first eight passes and Carolina took a 10-0 lead. He finished 21 of 35 for 262 yards with a meager passer rating of 47.6.
“It’s unbelievable,’’ said defensive end Everson Griffen, who had three sacks. “It’s team sacks. ... We came from every area on the field and we get sacks.’’
Griffen left the game in the second quarter because of illness but was able to return. As for Minnesota’s offense, once again there were injuries.
Guard Alex Boone was carted off in the second quarter with a hip injury, and Zimmer said he will have an MRI on Monday. Boone, replaced by Jeremiah Sirles for the rest of the game, declined to comment on his injury. Also, tight end David Morgan was lost for the game in the third quarter with a knee injury.
The Vikings, though, are a resilient bunch. In addition to a great defense, they also have impressive special teams.
Defensive end Danielle Hunter pulled Minnesota within 10-2 late in the first quarter with a sack of Newton for a safety. Then late in the second quarter, Marcus Sherels returned a punt 54 yards for a touchdown to cut the deficit to 10-8, although Blair Walsh botched his second extra point of the season.
“He is a very valuable guy,’’ Zimmer said of Sherels.
By the second half, Minnesota’s often-struggling offense finally began to move the ball a bit. When Sam Bradford threw a 15-yard touchdown pass to Kyle Rudolph early in the third quarter and Jerick McKinnon ran in a two-point conversion, it gave the Vikings the lead for good at 16-10.
Zimmer said he probably shouldn’t have gone for two, but did so because he wasn’t happy about Walsh’s missed extra point. At least the kicker rebounded to boot fourth-quarter field goals of 28 and 31 yards.
“It was a tale of two halves,” Bradford said of Minnesota’s offense. “You look at the second half and we were able to come out and kind of get in that rhythm.’’
Second-half adjustments have been pivotal for the Vikings this season. In his second Vikings game, Bradford went 4 of 11 in the first half but 14 of 17 in the second, and finished 18 of 28 for 171 yards and a touchdown.
Meanwhile, the Vikings spent the second half frustrating Newton to no end. After Newton scored on a 3-yard run with 5:20 left in the first quarter for a 10-0 lead, Carolina (1-2) did little the rest of the game on offense.
“It can’t happen,’’ said Newton, who didn’t hit wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin all day with a pass while targeting him just once. “We’ve got to hone in and focus in and be better.’’
Newton shrugged off the pressure on him, saying “a sack is a sack.’’ Vikings cornerback Captain Munnerlyn had a different view.
“I was talking to him and I let him know (he was frustrated) just to mess with him,’’ Munnerlyn said.
Munnerlyn played with the Panthers from 2009-13. He talked trash to his former teammates throughout the game, and joked about it afterward.
As for the Vikings overcoming the odds, Munnerlyn didn’t need to joke about that.
“We can overcome anything,’’ Munnerlyn said. “Our quarterback goes down, and they’re counting us out. What are the Vikings going to do? Adrian Peterson goes down, the best player in the NFL, and it’s like, what are we going to do?’’
On Sunday, all the Vikings did was beat last year’s best team in the NFC.