The Minnesota Vikings faced the Carolina Panthers Sunday in Charlotte, the final game of a tough three-game road trip. Minnesota entered on an eight-game winning streak, while Carolina lost the previous game by 10 to the Saints. With Atlanta winning Thursday, this was a must-win for the Panthers to stay alive in the NFC playoff race.. It was the second-highest scoring game in the Vikings season, and Carolina ultimately came out on top, 31-24.
For the Vikings to win this game, they needed to keep up good offensive play, starting up front with the offensive line. Not having Mike Remmers had not been the disaster it could have been as Rashod Hill had played nicely in his place. But adding Pat Elflein to the list of inactives was a hard pill to swallow as it triggered a chain reaction of moving linemen around. Nick Easton filled in for Elflein at center and Jereimiah Sirles took Easton’s place at left guard.
Offensively, the Vikings started slow on their first drive of the game. They did not move the ball at all, running for a loss of 4 yards on two separate plays before Keenum threw his sixth interception of the season. From there, Minnesota picked up their play and kept themselves in the game as Keenum found Kyle Rudolph in the endzone on their second drive. Jerick McKinnon started opening things up, as well and Kai Forbath hit a couple of field goals. The downside was Adam Thielen dropping two passes in the endzone.
The Vikings defense came out much like the offense did. On Carolina’s first drive, they allowed a 60-yard touchdown run to Jonathan Stewart. Minnesota stacked the box on third-and-short, leaving nobody in the secondary to stop Stewart once he broke through the line. The next time the Panthers had the ball, the Vikings had two chances to end their drive well out of field goal range. But they kept the Carolina drive alive with two facemask penalties. After that, however, Minnesota put their foot down and forced three-straight Carolina punts and went into halftime trailing 14-13. At that point, the Minnesota’s D was playing well, but was getting tough breaks.
In the second half, the Vikings offense struggled early again. Their first four drives went thusly: A fumble, a sack that pushed them out of field goal range, a missed field goal and an interception. In addition, the Vikings also lost left tackle Riley Reiff to an injury and he would not return. From there, Minnesota’s offense performed well under pressure, tying the game at 24 after a 52-yard touchdown from Adam Theilen. But Minnesota ran out of juice and turned the ball over on downs on their final drive.
Defensively, the Vikings were solid, but failed when it really counted. They allowed a touchdown on the first Carolina drive after the break as Cam Newton did his best rendition of Houdini. He evaded the Everson Griffen and Danielle Hunter before throwing to the endzone to a wide open Devin Funchess. After that, the Vikings did what they needed to do to keep themselves in the game, forcing three punts and intercepting Cam deep in their own territory. But a Cam Newton 62-yard scamper to the Minnesota six was the final nail in the Vikings’ coffin. The Panthers scored the go-ahead touchdown a few plays later.
Keys to the Game
Uncharacteristic Play All-Around
From the turnovers, sacks and drops on offense, to the allowing of big plays on defense, this team looked nothing like the typical 2017 Minnesota team. Keenum came in and threw two interceptions and lost a fumble. Thielen dropped two touchdown passes in the endzone. Rudolph dropped a long pass that would have put the Vikings in field goal range. The offensive line allowed six sacks on the day. The Viking defense allowed five plays for 20-plus yards, two of which went for over 60. It was just a sloppy game all-around, yet they were still in position to win in the final minutes.
Late in the first half, McKinnon broke off two solid runs back-to-back against a Carolina defense that ate up Latavious Murray all day. Going in to halftime, McKinnon had seven attempts for 46 yards. He would finish the game with those exact same stats. McKinnon only touched the ball once in the second half. The Vikings went away form their typically balanced attack despite never trailing by much. Had they fed McKinnon more, who knows what might have happened.
As mentioned above, the Vikings were without Mike Remmers and Pat Elflein. The offensive line held strong despite those two losses, only allowing one sack in the first half. But when Riley Reiff went down in the third quarter, things really started going down hill. It seems the Vikings reached their limit of depth and the line finally started to cave. Injuries were a huge set back for the line last season and yesterday’s second half brought back some bad memories for Vikings fans.
Despite this game, Viking fans should not be worried. Yes, the Lions and Packers both won, but Minnesota is still on top of the division by three games with three to play. They still have a top-five defense and an efficient offense. The Vikings are playing for home field advantage in the playoffs right now. With the Bengals, Packers, and Bears as the only teams left on their schedule, it is hard to believe a game this incomplete all-around will happen again.
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– Adam Pearson is a writer for Full Press Coverage. Follow him on Twitter @APwrites3