The first shock came on the opening kickoff when rookie Steve Smith started the NFL season by taking that kick back 93 yards for a touchdown. No problem, that would just get the Viking offense on the field quicker. Who ever would have imagined that it would take that offense more than a half to get on the scoreboard?
In the meantime, the Panthers had added a field goal, and had the Metrodome crowd shaking its' collective head, never imagining that Duante Culpepper, Cris Carter and Randy Moss would be shut out for a half. For Moss, it was a double dose of goose eggs, he was held without a catch in the first half.
That in itself was shocking, as the Panthers' defensive backfield was without its' best player, strong safety Mike Minter, and with a pair of second year players. But they were able to keep the Vikings, especially quarterback Duante Culpepper, off kilter enough to keep them from scoring.
Things changed though in the second half, as the Vikings struck quickly. In just over 6 minutes, they got a pair of touchdowns sandwiching a Chris Weinke interception to take a 13-10 lead. But, the momenteum swung right back to the Panthers on the extra point attempt, when Carolina came up with a block to stay within a field goal.
Weinke, the Minnesota native who was starting his first NFL game, showed the kind of poise we saw during the pre-season, not letting the pick rattle him. He hit Donald Hayes for 13 yards and Muhsin Muhammad for 43 on a flea flicker. After missing on an attempt to Nick Goings, he hit Muhammad again on a 16-yard touchdown to give the Panthers the lead back...and to take the Metrodome crowd out of the game again.
The Vikings couldn't recover. Abandoning the short passing game that had gotten them back into the game, Culpepper's troops went three-and-out, and then, on the first play of the next possession, he missed badly in an attempt to Moss and was picked off by Deon Grant.
The Panthers took 7 plays to move 34 yards, with Weinke scoring his first NFL touchdown on a one yard dive making it 24-13.
One final Viking comeback attempt was thwarted by a reversed call. Culpepper rolled right and tried to squeeze into the corner of the end zone, he reached the ball out and lost it over the sideline in the end zone. He was ruled out at the one. The Panthers appealled, and won. The replay showed that he had lost the ball before he was down, and that meant a touchback and Panther ball at the 20.
It was the last of five turnovers for the Vikings, 3 interceptions and 2 lost fumbles. Culpepper ended up the day 22-38 for 236 yards...but with the three picks. He was also the team's leading rusher with 12 carries for 57 yards. Randy Moss finished the day with just one catch for 28 yards.
Chris Weinke, on the other hand, has a lot to be happy about, joining the elite list of rookie quarterbacks with a win in their first start. He was 13-22 for 223 with one touchdown pass, one interception and one touchdown rushing. Another rookie grabbed some attention in the offensive backfield as well, Nick Goings spent the bulk of the final three quarters on the field (following a Tshimanga Biakabutuka fumble deep in Viking territory) and gained 86 yards on 25 carries.
Tight end Wesley Walls celebrated a successful return from a knee injury pulling down 3 passes for 74 yards. Muhsin Muhammad caught 4 for 69.
What actually happened in the Metrodome will be up for debate for a while to come. Were the Vikings overconfident (they came in a 10 point favorite)? Did the emotion from a tribute to Korey Stringer backfire on them? I believe it was a combination of things, starting with the Panthers coming in with a better plan. George Seifert and his assistants knew what they wanted to do, and his club executed it to near perfection. Then, I'm willing to throw in an element of Vikings over-confidence. Hey, virtually no one in Charlotte believed the Panthers had a chance, why would the Vikings be prone to believe anything different? Then again, that's why they play the games.