CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- The Minnesota Vikings were having their way against a depleted Carolina Panthers defense on the opening possession Sunday when quarterback Kirk Cousins made the kind of mistake that has his team winless.
He threw a red zone interception that safety Sam Franklin Jr. returned 99 yards for a touchdown, the longest interception return in Carolina history. The previous record was a 97-yarder from Julius Peppers in 2004 against the Denver Broncos. That did not result in a touchdown.
Franklin made it look easy, jumping Cousins' pass intended for K.J. Osborn near the left end zone pylon and running the distance for the touchdown.
99-YARDS!— Carolina Panthers (@Panthers) October 1, 2023
No stopping Sam 😤 pic.twitter.com/3SzM0NRIvj
The only player close to stopping him was Cousins, who made a half-hearted attempt near the Carolina 25-yard line to make the tackle. It was Carolina's third interception returned for a touchdown in the past two seasons. That's tied with five other teams for the second most.
It was Cousin's third red zone interception this season. He entered the day as the only quarterback with more than one. It was the first 99-yard pick-six this season.
Franklin reached a max speed of 20.6 mph, the fastest speed by a Panthers ball carrier this season.