The Carolina Panthers' impressive start to the season came to a screeching halt Sunday.
Their trip to visit the 0-2 Minnesota Vikings ended up with a different result than they had hoped as they came up short, falling 20-10 after their offense hit a figurative brick wall following an impressive start.
The Vikings decided to pull their opening day starting quarterback, Tarvaris Jackson in the middle of the week in favor of journeyman Gus Frerotte. The moved turned out to be a wise one, as Frerotte completed 16 of his 28 pass attempts for 204 yards to go along with a touchdown and an interception.
He continuously completed short check-down passes underneath that ate up yardage and kept the chains moving; something Jackson had failed to do in the Vikings' two losses.
The Vikings also received help from their running back duo of Adrian Peterson and Chester Taylor, who combined to rush the ball for 28 times for a total of 121 yards. The relentless offensive attack from the Vikings kept the Panthers defense on the field for longer than they have been all season, including one drive where they ran 19 plays for 75 yards and took 11:34 off of the clock to earn a field goal.
While the Vikings offensive attack was smooth and efficient, the Panthers showed signs of the struggling offensive unit they played with for the majority of last season without Jake Delhomme under center.
Running backs DeAngelo Williams and rookie sensation Jonathan Stewart combined for 17 carries for just 42 yards and the only touchdown of the day for the Panthers. The duo had provided the largest amount of the offense for the Panthers in their two wins prior to Sunday, especially with receiver Steve Smith out.
Smith was held in check by the Vikings despite catching a 16-yard pass to open the game. He finished with four catches for 70 yards. Delhomme finished with mediocre numbers as he completed 17 of 29 passes for 191 yards, being sacked five times by the Vikings defense.
The story of the day on offense for the Panthers was the amount of mistakes. The Panthers were whistled for six false starts, and had a long kickoff return by Stewart negated after a block in the back penalty.
Delhomme fumbled twice as well, losing a center exchange and also losing the ball after being hit by Vikings cornerback Antoine Winfield on a corner blitz. Winfield scooped the ball up and ran it into the end zone, which tied the game at the time and shifted the momentum in the favor of the Vikings.
The Panthers only ran five offensive series in the second half and gained only four first downs, with the last coming on a long pass to D.J. Hackett in the last few seconds of the game as the offense searched for a miracle.
The win gives the Vikings something to build on after a disappointing start to a season filled with high expectations. Frerotte appeared to provide the Vikings with the leadership and experience they had been missing on the offensive side of the ball.
This is key for the Vikings, who now go on an important road trip with two difficult stops in Tennessee and then New Orleans. If the Vikings hope to turn this season around and become a playoff contender they must keep up the intensity and effectiveness with which they played against Carolina.
The Vikings will most likely be chasing Green Bay in the NFC North for the duration of the season.
For the Panthers, their first loss of the season could not have come at a worse time. Riding the momentum from two close wins to start the season along with the return of Smith to the lineup, the Panthers hit a roadblock Sunday, failing to get anything going after a strong kick return by Stewart and a couple of nice plays earned them a field goal on the opening possession of the game.
The Panthers defense was impressive at times, but showed fatigue as the game went on and the Vikings showed no signs of letting up, running the ball right up the gut and completing passes all over the place to keep them on the field.
Chris Gamble recorded the first interception of the year for the Panthers on a pass that glanced off the fingertips of Vikings receiver Bernard Berrian.
The Panthers will be back at home next Sunday, facing their first division foe of the season as the Atlanta Falcons make the trip up I-85 to Bank of America Stadium following a 38-14 shellacking of the Kansas City Chiefs.
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