Sunday's game at U.S. Bank Stadium was hyped for Carolina Panthers quarterback Teddy Bridgewater returning to Minnesota as a franchise quarterback, but rookie linebacker/safety Jeremy Chinn briefly stole the show with two touchdowns in 10 seconds.
Carolina's second-round pick out of Southern Illinois picked up a strip sack by defensive tackle Zach Kerr and raced 17 yards for his first NFL touchdown on the third play of the second half. On Minnesota's next play, Chinn helped strip the ball from running back Dalvin Cook on a run up the middle and went 28 yards for the score that made it 21-10.
But the Panthers' defense couldn't hold in the fourth quarter. A 10-yard touchdown pass from Kirk Cousins to wide receiver Chad Beebe with 46 seconds left gave the Vikings a 28-27 lead and then the win after Panthers kicker Joey Slye missed a 54-yard potential game winner.
According to the Elias Sports Bureau, Chinn is the third player in NFL history with multiple fumble-return touchdowns in a game. Al Nesser had three for the Akron Pros in 1920 and Fred Evans had two for the Chicago Bears in 1948.
Panthers coach Matt Rhule put the loss solely on himself and the coaching staff for not putting the players in position to win at the end. Had they, he said the Panthers (4-8) would be celebrating a historic day by Chinn instead of looking for answers as to why they lost.
Rhule said there was no excuse for losing a game with two defensive scores.
"So instead of pointing fingers, I better just point the thumb back at me," Rhule said. "That's not coachspeak. I'm disappointed in myself and my staff."
Chinn also is the first player to score two defensive touchdowns in the same game since Samson Ekuban for the Los Angeles Rams against the Kansas City Chiefs in 2018. He is the first player in Panthers history to score two defensive touchdowns in one game.
He said the moment he scored twice was fun.
"No way to explain it," said Chinn, whose two touchdowns will help his case for NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year. "The moment was fun and exciting. I haven't scored a touchdown since high school."
But the end wasn't fun, as the Panthers couldn't hold on.
"We just got to finish," Chinn said. "I feel like I say that all the time. We can't let our opponent breathe."
The end was painful for Bridgewater, who tried to treat this as just another game. Bridgewater's career began with Minnesota as a first-round pick in 2014 and almost ended because of a horrific right knee injury suffered during training camp in 2016
Bridgewater said he hurt "something in his arm" on his final offensive play and then watched Slye's miss.
The quarterback also missed a wide-open DJ Moore on third-and-goal from the 3 with less than two minutes remaining that could have all but secured the win. Bridgewater said the play came in late as coaches tried to decide whether to run or pass, and it wound up being rushed.
Had he had more time, Bridgewater said he probably would have audibled to a run.