The Vikings defense looked out of sorts on their first two drives, allowing a 31-yard pass to Ted Ginn Jr. on second-and-8 that led to a 48-yard field goal for Graham Gano and a 3-0 Carolina lead.
After a three-and-out by the Vikings, Carolina TE Greg Olsen found an opening for an 18-yard gain that appeared to be a blown coverage on the first play of the Panthers’ second drive. Three plays later, Philly Brown beat Captain Munnerlyn for a 27-yard pass to put the Panthers in the red zone and Cam Newton capped the drive with a 3-yard run and a 10-0 lead.
The Vikings defense finally found its groove after Jeff Locke pinned the Panthers inside the 5-yard line. Two plays later, Danielle Hunter ended the first-quarter scoring with a 5-yard sack of Newton in the end zone for a safety, making it 10-2.
In a first half that featured more flags than big plays, the Panthers were winning the battle of field position early in the second quarter, but that shifted when a 54-yard field goal attempt from Gano hit the right upright.
The Vikings couldn’t get a first down and punted back to the Panthers on a Locke boot that was downed at the 2-yard line. When the Vikings defense forced a three-and-out, Marcus Sherels took back the punt 54 yards for a touchdown, but Blair Walsh missed the extra point to keep the Vikings trailing by two points, 10-8.
The Panthers tried to mount a final scoring drive in the first half, moving past midfield, but a second-down sack by Everson Griffen and Tom Johnson was followed by a third-down interception from Trae Waynes to essentially end the half.
While the Vikings trailed by only two points, Alex Boone was taken to the locker room with a hip injury and the offense was putrid with only 34 yards in the first half, including only 8 in the passing game as Sam Bradford struggled to find time and then struggled with accuracy when he had time. He finished the half 4-for-11 for only 26 yards.
The Vikings picked up only two first downs in the half and were 1-for-6 on third down. They averaged only 1.6 yards per play.
Despite a putrid first half from the offense, the Vikings found a rhythm in their first drive of the second half. Using a mix of a quick passing game and positive yards running the ball, Bradford drove the Vikings 79 yards, hitting Stefon Diggs for 10, 16 and 6 yards before trusting Kyle Rudolph on a 15-yard touchdown toss with 9:43 left in the third quarter as the Vikings took their first lead of the game, 16-10, aided by Jerick McKinnon’s two-point run.
The defense continued its stellar play with Brian Robison getting a 5-yard sack and Terence Newman intercepting Newton on the next play as the game moved to the fourth quarter.
After getting good field position to start the final quarter, at the Carolina 43, Bradford started with an 18-yard screen pass to Rhett Ellison, then picked up another first down with an 8-yard pass to Rudolph. When the drive stalled at the 10-yard line, Walsh connected from 28 yards out to give the Vikings an important nine-point lead, meaning two scores, with 13:14 left in the fourth quarter.
The defense continued to work, getting sacks from Everson Griffen and Anthony Barr on the next drive to give the Vikings good field position again, starting at their own 38. Bradford hit Rudolph for 15 yards across midfield and again for 14 yards into scoring position. A great one-handed catch by Adam Thielen on third down gave the Vikings the ball on the 10-yard line, and Walsh eventually hit from 31 yards out for a 22-10 lead with 5:07 to play.
The Panthers drove to the 24-yard line on their ensuing drive, but on fourth down Newton lofted a desperation pass as he was hit and Tom Johnson hauled in the interception that essentially sealed the win.
The Vikings went three-and-out, but Griffen hit Newton for a 15-yard sack – their eighth of the game – on third down to ice the game and give Minnesota a 22-10 win after they trailed 10-0 less than 10 minutes into the game.
PREGAME: RHODES ACTIVE, TREADWELL INACTIVE
The biggest uncertainty heading into Sunday’s game was whether CB Xavier Rhodes, who missed the first two games of the season with a knee injury, would be available. Rhodes was limited all week in practice and listed as questionable on Friday’s injury report.
Rhodes is active for the Vikings, but how much he plays is still to be determined. Rhodes said on Friday he wasn’t sure what the coaches’ decision would be on his game status and Trae Waynes is expected to get the start.
The Vikings also listed rotational TE MyCole Pruitt (knee) as questionable after he missed the first two games, but he isn’t active.
With Peterson out, the Vikings signed free-agent RB Ronnie Hillman this week, but he didn’t have enough time in the offense to be ready, as he indicated Friday, and isn’t active.
“I would know what’s going on, but knowing I’ve had two days to prepare I wouldn’t even want to put myself in that situation,” Hillman said after Friday’s practice.
“It’s coming along. You ain’t going to learn it overnight. I’m just knocking it out day by day, studying it and getting it.”
Hillman said the verbiage was the toughest part to pick up in such a limited amount of time.
The Panthers will be without RB Jonathan Stewart (hamstring) and LB Jeremy Cash (hamstring). DT Kawann Short (shoulder) and G Trai Turner (ankle) are both active after being listed as questionable.null