The Carolina Panthers had to do something special to beat the Minnesota Vikings Sunday, and they did.
Minnesota came into the game 10-2 and as the NFC’s No. 1 playoff seed had the playoffs begun Sunday. But Carolina improved to 9-4 with what to me was its second-best game of the season (I would put the road win at New England at No. 1, just because winning in Foxborough has a slightly higher degree of difficulty).
These Panthers players were particularly impressive in the clutch win, which wasn’t sealed until the Panthers defense impressively held Minnesota one last time in the final 90 seconds. The Vikings started their last drive at their own 22 and ended it at their own 17.
After losing all of a 24-13 fourth-quarter lead and seeing Minnesota tie the game at 24, the Panthers marched down the field to get Jonathan Stewart’s third touchdown of the game with 1:47 to go. That ultimately sealed it, as Minnesota lost for the first time in nine games.
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▪ Cam Newton: The Panthers quarterback didn’t have big numbers throwing the ball (13-for-25 for 137 yards), but was careful with it and made some huge plays. His third-quarter scramble, which ended in him finding Devin Funchess behind the defense for an 18-yard TD, was the sort of play very few quarterbacks can make and one that most coaches would grimace to see their passers even attempt.
And then there was the play of the game – Newton on a 62-yard run on a zone read where he nearly outran the entire Minnesota defense with the score tied at 24.
▪ Jonathan Stewart: The Panthers’ veteran running back sped 60 yards for a TD on the first Carolina possession of the game – a superb run that was also set up by tremendous blocking. Stewart later scored twice more, ran for 103 yards altogether and now has five TDs in his past three games.
▪ Julius Peppers: Peppers had one big sack and then basically forced another – with that second sack, ultimately accomplished by Kyle Love, driving Minnesota out of field-goal range.
▪ Mario Addison: At right defensive end, Mario Addison was a force all day. His third-quarter strip-sack of Case Keenum set up a key field goal.
▪ Daryl Worley and James Bradberry: The Panthers came into the game without a single interception from their cornerbacks all season. By day’s end they had two – Worley in the first quarter on a deep ball, and Bradberry in the fourth off a ball bobbled by Stefon Diggs.
▪ Kawann Short: His third-and-goal sack of Keenum deep in the fourth quarter meant the Vikings would tie the game at 24 instead of take the lead. And No.99 would add another sack on the Vikings’ final offensive possession that helped short-circuit that drive before it ever got started.
▪ Devin Funchess: Guarded most of the day by Minnesota’s excellent Xavier Rhodes, Funchess still managed a TD and a great sideline grab that set up another.