Game Review - Panthers at Vikings

The Panthers are 3-0 with a 21-14 win over the Vikings. The offense and defense both had an enormous game as the Panthers still remain unbeaten.

Minneapolis, MNWhen I saw the Panthers at training camp this summer, I had no doubt this was a different bunch than we saw last year.  But in my wildest dreams I never thought they were this different.

The media can say what they will.  Say the Panthers are the worst 3-0 team in the league.  Say all of our wins have come against winless teams.  Say we'll fall flat on our collective faces soon.  I could care less – I don't need or want their respect.  Just so long as they repeat that "3-0" part.

The Panthers walked into the hostile Metrodome, facing easily the best offense they've seen in this young season.  They were also facing a miserly run defense, ranked 3rd against the ground game.  How did the Panthers do?  Carry on, faithful readers.

Carolina's up-and-coming defense did exactly what it had to do against the Minnesota offense: Stop the big plays and wait for frustration to set in.  The Black and Blue Crew held Randy Moss to four catches and sixteen yards, including no touchdowns.  Sure, the Panthers gave up yardage in the air to players like Moe Williams, Mike Bennett, and D'Wayne Bates, but none of those men are back-breakers like Moss.  The Panthers were able to manage the game even though the Vikings managed to spread the ball around.  Take away that big play, and eventually the Vikings (specifically Daunte Culpepper) get antsy and force things.  And did Culpepper ever force things, to the tune of four interceptions to our safety tandem.  For those who are interested, that's three picks to Deon Grant and one to Mike Minter.  Of course, the Panthers defense helped Culpepper force things by pressuring him all game long.  Mike Rucker sacked Culpepper three times and Sean Gilbert (1) threw in another one for fun.  Reggie Howard even got a sack, for goodness sake!  And what of that Viking running game, entering the contest ranked 2nd in the entire NFL?  They put up 72 yards.  Their leading rusher was Culpepper with 32 yards.  If you're Carolina, consider that mission accomplished.

So how did the offense fare?  Not as eye-popping as the defense, but pretty dog-gone good!  As we've seen over the first two weeks, the Carolina offense is based on ball control and minimal mistakes.  We didn't come through on the minimal mistakes thing, but we were good enough to overcome our mistakes.  In the first half Rodney Peete threw two interceptions, one setting up a Viking touchdown.  Our offense was unable to take advantage of turnovers taken from Minnesota.  This is exactly what we don't need.  However, it gave us a chance to see what our team would do under duress.  Pick any game from last year and insert the first half from this game.  I'll bet you money we would've given up and lost.  Think about it: No offensive success, a missed field goal, and a turnover gives our opponent the lead.  Pack it in boys, it's just another loss.  But not this year.  The Panthers regrouped at halftime and looked at this thing.  Despite playing quite poorly on offense, the team was only down by seven, and very much in this game.  Instead of packing it in, they turned it on.  After the half, the offense began to take advantage of turnovers.  Lamar Smith began to run in earnest, two touchdowns and 154 yards worth.  This against a team giving up around 50 yards a game on the ground!  We took the game in hand and scored 21 straight points.  Even Peete straightened things out, finishing the day 20 out of 30 for 221 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions.  On another day when the Panthers could've given up many times, they didn't.  They believed.

I think that's the strength of the Panthers right now: They believe they can win.  They now have proof.  If players didn't believe in the philosophies of Fox, Del Rio, and Henning before the season, three wins have sold them.  I see an inner fire in the eyes of players that was missing for a long time.  Not only do they want to win, they know they can.

Not all was wine and roses, however.  As previously mentioned, the Panthers committed their first turnovers of the season.  Rodney Peete was sacked and under pressure most of the day.  Our kicking game is in need of help, considering the two missed field goals.  The injury bug has finally bitten, with Muhammad and Dan Morgan pulling hamstrings and Terry Fair breaking an ankle.  Fair is out for the year while we await word on Moose and the Danimal.  Julius Peppers also had a minor hand injury, leaving the game briefly to return with two fingers taped together.

Still, how can you be disappointed in this game and call yourself a Panther fan?  This was as sweet as it could be.  On the road.  Underdogs.  Under-rated.  Underapprecited.  Call us anything, just call us winners.

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