Carolina entered Sunday’s game against Minnesota with the hopes of spoiling the Viking’s attempt to clinch the NFC North.
The Panthers also entered Sunday’s game 8-0 when leading at halftime and 4-0 when winning the turnover battle.
Sunday was no exception to the rule, as the Panthers forced three turnovers (the Vikings forced one) and led at halftime, ultimately taking the game 31-24.
1. Worley comes up big
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Cornerback Daryl Worley picked off an underthrown ball by Vikings quarterback Case Keenum on the first drive of the game. It was the first interception by a Panthers corner this season.
2. Stewart runs angry
Jonathan Stewart found a big hole on Carolina’s third play of the game and ran in a 60-yard touchdown to put the Panthers up 7-0. It was his longest run of the season.
Carolina was in its “jumbo” package, featuring an extra offensive lineman (Taylor Moton), and had a presnap shift to the right side. Four linemen (starting with center Ryan Kalil on a shift, in his first minutes back since Chicago) blocked downhill to break open the hole.
Stewart also ultimately put the game away with a pile-leaping, tie-breaking touchdown.
3. Adams’ mistake
An error on Mike Adams’ coverage on tight end Kyle Rudolph in the end zone resulted in the Vikings’ first score of the game. Adams appeared to mistime his jump on a playable underthrown Keenum throw, and fell backward as Rudolph caught the pass.
4. Face masks all around
A strange Panthers drive in the first quarter brought forth three face-mask penalties, one of which was on left tackle Matt Kalil.
However, Minnesota linebacker Anthony Barr yanked running back Christian McCaffrey’s face mask on a third-down carry, giving the Panthers a first down to keep the drive alive.
The Panthers scored on the drive (which continued over from the end of the first quarter and opened the second), on a 1-yard Jonathan Stewart rumble.
It was the first multiple-touchdown game for Stewart this season and the ninth of his career.
5. Three fill in for missing Thompson
Carolina linebacker Shaq Thompson, often featured in the team’s “buffalo” (big nickel) package, missed Sunday’s game with plantar fasciitis in his foot.
Safety Collin Jones started the game at the position, while small nickel Captain Munnerlyn and safety Jairus Byrd rotated in.
Munnerlyn had an excellent pass breakup on a deep ball to Stefon Diggs on third down in the second quarter.
Still, the Panthers missed Thompson’s ability to cover tight ends. Rudolph racked up 41 yards on just three catches and a touchdown in the first half as he capitalized on the mismatch.
6. Big tackle by Bradberry
A crucial third-down tackle by James Bradberry on receiver Adam Thielen forced the Vikings to hit a 22-yard field goal in the second quarter.
Thielen had a rare end-zone drop late in the half and then bobbled a would-be touchdown catch that was overruled, securing the Panthers’ 14-13 halftime lead.
7. Zimmer gets aggressive
Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer got more aggressive once the Panthers took the lead, blitzing often on defense and forcing his receivers to test Carolina’s secondary on one-on-one matchups on offense. It forced back-to-back three-and-outs for the Panthers in the second quarter as the offense struggled to find momentum.
Carolina had just 34 yards of offense in the second quarter.
8. Cam Newton pulls a ‘Houdini’
Quarterback Cam Newton and the Panthers needed a spark to open the second half, and got it as Newton first connected with receiver Devin Funchess for a 19-yard catch over the middle.
Newton then wiggled through several pairs of arms to avoid the sack and hit Funchess for the 18-yard score (21-13).
9. Addison and Peppers battle for sacks
Veteran defensive end Julius Peppers sacked quarterback Case Keenum in the first half to take the team lead in sacks with 9.5.
Hitting his ninth sack of the season earned him a $500,000 bonus, per the details of the contract he signed with Carolina last spring. Peppers, who jawed at the ref to give him a second sack (it appeared he downed Keenum in the third quarter, but the sack was credited to defensive tackle Kyle Love), can earn another $750,000 for hitting 11 sacks.
But opposite Peppers, Mario Addison wanted a piece of the action, too. Addison strip-sacked Keenum in the third quarter, and Adams recovered to set up a 55-yard field goal (24-13).
Carolina’s six total sacks beat a season high given up by the Vikings this year. The offensive line only gave up 14 total sacks entering Week 14.
10. Bradberry matches Worley
Another Panthers second-year cornerback snagged a pick on Sunday.
Not to be outdone by Worley, James Bradberry picked off Keenum on a second-and-7 pass intended for Diggs with just under nine minutes to play.
11. Short earns the money
Luke Kuechly led the team with 12 tackles by the fourth quarter, but missed a huge one on Adam Thielen in the fourth quarter (linebacker Thomas Davis also missed Thielen), and the receiver scurried in for the 52-yard touchdown. Keenum’s two-point conversion made it a three-point game.
A pass from Newton tipped off McCaffrey’s hands on the following drive and safety Andrew Zendejo picked it off and returned it 34 yards.
But defensive tackle Kawann Short sacked Keenum on third down of the following drive, forcing a field goal that tied the game.
Short also sacked Keenum on second down on the Vikings’ final drive of the game, setting up a long third down that fell incomplete.
12. Newton turns on the gas
With a tied game and 3:07 to play, Newton broke off a 62-yard run – that set the Panthers up inside the 10.
The run set up a pile-leaping touchdown by Stewart that put the game away.