MINNEAPOLIS (AP) -- Everyone knows the Minnesota Vikings have a championship-caliber offense.
Sunday, the Vikings' defense showed some of the opportunistic tendencies they'll need if they are to advance deep into the NFL playoffs.
"Week in and week out, I think we're making some strides," said defensive end Talance Sawyer, who had two of Minnesota's five sacks in the Vikings' 31-17 victory over the Carolina Panthers.
"The defense really stepped up, and against a good offensive football team too," Sawyer said.
The Vikings, who entered the game ranked 27th in the NFL in total defense, sacked Carolina quarterback Steve Beuerlein five times, intercepted two passes and recovered two fumbles. They also had a nifty goal-line stand late in the fourth quarter, holding the Panthers to a field goal that kept them from getting back into the game.
"The defense really made a difference," said Vikings' coach Dennis Green. "We had an excellent pass rush and got a lot of pressure on them. They caused a fumble and a couple of interceptions, so hopefully this is the first step of our pass rush improvement from the defensive line."
The interceptions -- by Robert Tate in the second quarter and Kailee Wong late in the game -- were the first by the Vikings in eight games.
"Who says the Vikings can't sack the quarterback and intercept passes?" said Wong, whose first NFL interception halted a Panthers drive at the Minnesota 11 with 2:14 to play. "It sure didn't look like that today."
Wong picked off a pass intended for Brad Hoover, a rookie running back who was substituting for the injured Tim Biakabutuka.
Wong raced up the sideline and tried to lateral to cornerback Kenny Wright, but the toss was errant and Wright fumbled the ball out of bounds at the Vikings' 48.
"I thought Tate was coming up on my side and that we had a chance to really do something," Wong said. "It was Kenny, but it didn't matter because I threw it a little too hard. It was fun anyway."
While the Vikings gave up 330 yards to Carolina, timely sacks continually ruined Panthers' drives. Three of the sacks resulted in Carolina punts and a fourth caused a Beuerlein fumble that led to Minnesota's second touchdown.
Minnesota's other sacks came from Tony Williams and John Randle, who had two.
Randle, who has more sacks (110.5) than any player in the NFL since 1991, elected not to talk to the media after the game.
"I do my talking on the field," he said as he brushed off reporters.
Teams often use more than one player to try to slow down Randle, which makes things easier for Sawyer and other Viking linemen.
"Whenever John is getting double- and triple-teamed, it leaves me one-on-one and I have to come through," Sawyer said.
"He's a heckuva player," Beuerlein said of Randle. "We thought we could make some plays upfield, but we never had a chance to get any of it done. Whenever we tried to get into a deeper drop, they had a rush on us so we had to do a lot of quick plays."
Sawyer, in his second full season with Minnesota, says the defense doesn't even think about trying to keep up with the Vikings' offense when it comes to publicity.
"The offense usually gets the headline, but that's because they deserve the headlines."
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