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CAROLINA PANTHERS 35, MINNESOTA VIKINGS 10

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Panthers linebacker Thomas Davis has career day against Vikings

MINNEAPOLIS After nine years in the league and three ACL surgeries, Thomas Davis is still setting career bests.

Playing at weakside linebacker, Davis sacked Minnesota quarterback Matt Cassel twice, besting a career-high of 1 1/2 set in 2006.

Ron Rivera awarded Davis a game ball after the 35-10 victory against the Vikings for his two sacks and team-high nine tackles.

“I think our coaches did a good job of dialing up blitzes on those situations,” Davis said. “I came free last week and missed the sack, and that was one of my focuses going in. If I get to the quarterback or the ball carrier, finish the play. And I was able to go out and do that today.”

Davis blitzed Arizona quarterback Carson Palmer early in last week’s game, got his hands on the quarterback but couldn’t bring him down for the sack.

Along with the two sacks Sunday, Davis pressured Cassel into a poor throw in the third quarter on a fourth-and-7. Davis shot through the line untouched and jumped in the air as Cassel released the ball, which floated and was almost intercepted.

Davis was also a big piece of a Carolina defense that held reigning NFL MVP Adrian Peterson to 62 yards on 10 carries, his fewest yards of the season.

“We knew what kind of challenge we had going into this game playing against a guy like Adrian Peterson, but I think collectively as a team we stopped Adrian Peterson,” Davis said. “Our offense was able to go out and put points on the board, and it forced them into a situation where they could no longer run the ball. That allowed us to pin our ears back and get after the quarterback.”

Peeling Ginn : Ted Ginn Jr. laid a massive block on Vikings cornerback Xavier Rhodes that had the Carolina sideline and Ginn himself jumping in excitement.

On a 79-yard touchdown pass to Brandon LaFell in the third quarter, Ginn ran toward the sideline and angled his block on Rhodes, leveling the cornerback while LaFell went to the end zone.

“I came out and I was looking for the ball, and I saw the ball go over my head and I saw Brandon running,” Ginn said. “To make a big play blocking downfield was one of our main keys in our room this week. I saw a shot and I just tried to take it. Today was the peel back day.”

Near turnover : Captain Munnerlyn thought he had recovered a fumble late in the second quarter. Josh Thomas was so sure the cornerback had stripped Peterson and recovered the ball that he came out of the pile and ferociously signaled first down.

The referees saw it differently, and the ball stayed with Minnesota.

With 27 seconds left in the first half, Peterson rushed off the left guard for a 9-yard gain. As he was going down, Munnerlyn stripped him of the ball. The ball was in Munnerlyn’s lap as he was on the ground, but Vikings receiver Jarius Wright jumped in the pile quickly to recover the ball.

“The referee, they just kept saying, ‘purple ball, purple ball,’ ” Munnerlyn said. “A guy jumped in on me while I had it, and he kept going for the ball, and we both had it wrapped up and of course they gave it to the offensive side.

“It would have taken points off the board. I wish I could have gotten it and turned over.”

Minnesota kicked a field goal two plays later, cutting the Panthers’ lead to 14-3.

Smith’s flag : Steve Smith had an early call go his way Sunday, and it’s possible his comments last week had something to do with it.

Smith called an official from the Arizona-Carolina game “garbage” and the “sorriest ref” he had ever met for not calling penalties on the Cardinals’ aggressive defensive backs. On Carolina’s first drive, Vikings cornerback Chris Cook was flagged for defensive holding on Smith on a third down, keeping the drive alive.

“I’m not sure,” Smith said. “All I know is he was grabbing me – again. I had a good catch on a slant. That’s all I can say.”

Smith said he has not been fined by the league yet, though in his comments he invited NFL commissioner Roger Goodell to fine him.

Observations

• Josh Norman was inactive for his third consecutive game. He last saw action during the Buffalo game, when he gave up the game-winning touchdown.

• Carolina ran a flea flicker in the second quarter that ended up being a tight end screen to Greg Olsen. Minnesota pressured Newton and he checked it down to Olsen, who gained 11 yards.

• Sunday marked the first time the Panthers have scored on their first possession of the game.

• The Panthers are 2-0 this season when Derek Anderson plays.

By the numbers

0 Points allowed by Carolina’s defense in the first quarter this season.

32 Completions by Vikings quarterback Matt Cassel, on 44 attempts.

23 Yards of the longest completion by Cassel.

107 Receiving yards by Brandon LaFell, giving him his second career 100-plus-yard game.

49 Career passing touchdowns for Newton, surpassing Kerry Collins for third-most in Panthers history.

Quotes

•  “It was really cool to see (brother and Vikings left tackle Matt Kalil) on the field, and I am really proud of him for the player that he has become.” – Panthers center Ryan Kalil

• “I was told Steve Smith was a talker, that he would talk a lot and talk a lot of trash, but I wasn’t too worried about it.” – Vikings cornerback Xavier Rhodes.

• “It’s not funny, but at some point you just have to laugh about it, like what the heck is going on?” – Vikings defensive end Jared Allen.

• “I’m going to get on the bus, check the playbook; I’ve already written down some notes so we can start kicking (St. Louis’ butt).” – Panthers defensive end Greg Hardy.

Jones: 704-358-5323; Twitter: @jjones9
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