There are ugly losses, then there's the Minnesota Vikings' 35-10 loss to the Carolina Panthers at home. To say this was not a pretty game for the Vikings is an understatement. After instilling some hope with their victory over the Steelers in London, the Vikings needed to come out and prove that last season was not a fluke.
They fell flat.
About the only consolation with this team is the fact it is not the biggest disappointment in the NFL—yet. There are still three teams looking for their first win on the season. The Vikings are one of four playoff teams from last season with a losing record so far in 2013—the others are Houston (2-4), Washington (1-3) and Atlanta (1-4).
All that sugar-coating doesn't help. The Vikings have been tough to watch this season.
With this embarrassing loss, there is plenty of blame to assign on both sides of the ball—there were no bright spots in this game.
With a loss, the best grade any unit can expect is a "C"—after all, that's considered the least passable grade, and there won't be many passing (or running) grades this week.
In his second start for the Vikings, Cassel had the opportunity to extend the Vikings' quarterback controversy. He failed miserably.
He finished the game against the Steelers by completing his last 11 passes. His two touchdowns and no interceptions gave him a 123.4 passer rating. On Sunday against the Panthers, he was 32-of-44 passing for 242 yards, with a touchdown and two interceptions for a passer rating of 74.1.
The first interception came at an inopportune time. The Vikings were driving in Carolina territory to open the game. Facing a 1st-and-5 from the Panthers' 39-yard line, Cassel overthrew Greg Jennings badly and the ball sailed into the waiting arms of safety Mike Mitchell.
The Panthers did a very good job of taking control of the game. An early 14-point deficit put the Vikings on their heels and took away the running game.
In typical Peterson fashion, he started out slowly with only one yard rushing on his first four carries in the Vikings' first two series. He finished with a season-low 62 yards on a season-low 10 carries.
On a bright note, his 6.2 yards per carry was the highest average for any game this season—the problem was the Vikings were never in control of this game to give him more carries. By the end of the game, he was riding the bench as the Vikings were giving up.
Toby Gerhart: C
One carry for six yards—it's not his fault there's no chance to play.
Overall Grade: C
Jennings led the Vikings' wide receivers with six catches for only 34 yards—a 5.7-yard average doesn't cut it for a team's top receiver. He was targeted 10 times, including the two interceptions thrown by Matt Cassel.
Jerome Simpson: C-
The Vikings' downfield threat caught four passes for only 30 yards. His 7.5 yards per catch were better than Jennings' average, but that isn't exactly the field-stretcher the Vikings need. There have to be more yards after the catch.
Cordarrelle Patterson: D+
Patterson caught both passes thrown his way, but they only gained three yards. It's not his fault the Vikings are not letting him loose.
Jarius Wright: C
Like Patterson, Wright caught every pass thrown his way—both of them. He only gained 10 receiving yards.
Joe Webb: C+
I'll stop blaming Webb for not catching many passes. This was his best game of the season, with three catches for 24 yards.
Overall grade: C-: As a group, no one stepped up and helped the offense against a pretty good defense.
Kyle Rudolph: C+
Rudolph finally had a game in which he led the Vikings, with nine receptions for a team-high 97 yards. The problem is he only had four catches through three quarters, with no catches in the third quarter. In the final 15 minutes, he caught five balls for 52 yards and the Vikings' only touchdown.
John Carlson: D
Carlson had two catches for 12 yards. Tracking his progress against last season, he's got five catches for 28 yards—he's only three receptions from matching last season's total of eight.
Overall Grade: C
Maybe this is the start of the breakout season for Rudolph.
The Panthers only sacked Matt Cassel three times with six quarterback hits, though he dropped back 49 times in the game. It felt like Cassel was under a lot of pressure, as Carolina brought plenty of pressure with a number of blitzes.
Run Blocking: C
With the offense playing catch-up for most of the game, the line didn't have the opportunity to do a lot of run blocking. The Vikings only had 13 running plays, with Adrian Peterson getting only 10 carries. They finished with only 75 net rushing yards.
Overall Grade: C
Jared Allen: D
After getting 2.5 sacks in the last game against the Steelers, Allen barely made the box score. He finished with three tackles against the Panthers. He did not record a sack, a tackle for a loss or a quarterback hit.
Kevin Williams: D
Williams recorded one tackle in the game. He is not playing like he wants another contract in Minnesota.
Letroy Guion: D+
Like Williams, Guion finished with only one tackle.
Brian Robison: C
Robison finished with only three tackles, but he knocked down a couple of passes at the line of scrimmage. Hopefully there will be a lot more of Robison in the future after he signed a four-year, $28 million contract extension this past week.
Everson Griffen: C
Griffen recorded only two tackles, one for a loss, as he saw action playing inside against the Panthers.
Sharrif Floyd: C
Floyd recorded the only sack in the game for the Vikings, but he was also flagged for a penalty as his hand grabbed Cam Newton's helmet. He finished with two tackles in the game.
Fred Evans: C-
Only one tackle in the game for Evans.
Overall Grade: C-
The Panthers ran 66 total plays, and the defensive line had a total of 13 tackles and gave up 131 net rushing yards to the Panthers.
Chad Greenway: C
Greenway finished tied with the team lead with eight tackles. He also had a sack that would have ended the Panthers' first drive on a crucial 3rd-and-9. but it was negated because of a defensive holding penalty. The defense needed a big play at some point from one of its leaders, and Greenway did not step up.
Erin Henderson: C
Henderson finished with seven tackles, one for a loss and a quarterback hit, but like Greenway, he did not make a play that helped to get the defense off the field.
Marvin Mitchell: D
Mitchell finished with only one tackle in the game. He finally lost his starting job to Desmond Bishop.
Desmond Bishop: D-
After finally displacing Mitchell as the starter, he finished with only one tackle. Toward the end of the game, he was helped off the field after suffering a sprained knee on the same leg in which he suffered a torn hamstring injury last season. It will be interesting to see how serious it turns out to be and whether his role as a starter is short-lived.
Michael Mauti: Incomplete
Active for the second game of the season, Mauti did not see any action on defense.
Overall Grade: C-
The Panther offense was able to do pretty much anything it wanted as it ran up 35 points on the defense.
Chris Cook: D
Cook returned to the lineup after missing last game with an injury—it didn't help. He finished with six tackles and no big plays to help stop the Panthers. On the Panthers' opening drive, he was called for defensive holding on a 3rd-and-9 when Chad Greenway had sacked Cam Newton. It gave the Panthers a first down, and eventually a touchdown.
Xavier Rhodes: C
Rhodes needs to see more time as the starter to show what he can truly do. He's been playing mostly in the Vikings' nickel packages.
Josh Robinson: F
Robinson seems to be the one cornerback the opposition picks on the most. He had the coverage when Brandon LaFell caught the 79-yard touchdown to open the second half.
Marcus Sherels: C+
There's not a lot expected from the last third-string cornerback. He's playing more than A.J. Jefferson and making more plays.
A.J. Jefferson: Incomplete
Jefferson didn't make it onto the field as far as I can tell. That might be a good thing.
Overall Grade: D-
The 31st-ranked defense, with 10 touchdown passes allowed before this game, didn't do anything to improve that ranking, with another three given up.
Harrison Smith: C-
The only play of note for Smith came when he left the field after spraining his big toe. Like all of his teammates, he did not come up with a big play to shift the momentum.
Jamarca Sanford: C
It's never good when a safety leads the team in tackles. That usually means they're coming at the third level of the defense. Sanford returned to the lineup after missing the last game and led the team with eight tackles—and not one for a loss.
Andrew Sendejo: C+
Sendejo has moved up from undrafted special teams player to backup safety. He finished with three tackles against the Panthers, with one of them for a loss.
Mistral Raymond: Inactive
The former starter who lost his position when he was injured after three games in 2011 has not been able to make his way back.
Overall grade: C-
The team could have really used an interception or big hit that knocked a ball free to give the offense the ball back.
Blair Walsh: C-
Walsh was unable to perform his kickoff duties in the game because of a hamstring injury to his plant leg. He did convert the only field-goal attempt he had, a 22-yard try at the end of the first half.
Jeff Locke: C+
Locke filled in for Walsh on kickoffs and allowed only 31 yards on two returns. He also had four punts for a 44.3-yard average, with a long of 60 yards. He was able to limit Ted Ginn to 21 yards on three punt returns.
Cordarrelle Patterson: Incomplete
Patterson was unable to return even one of the eight kickoffs from the Panthers.
Marcus Sherels: C-
Sherels' role on special teams was to make sure he didn't bobble the fair catch.
Overall grade: C-
No returns and only four points from Walsh kind of says it all.