Mr. Smith Confounds Vikings

Minnesota had no answer for Carolina receiver Steve Smith, who set a franchise record with 201 yards receiving and led the Panthers to a 38-13 blowout of the road-ravaged Vikings.

The Vikings knew Steve Smith was the most explosive receiver on the Carolina Panthers, they just couldn't do anything about it.

When the Vikings made a halftime adjustment last week by putting cornerback Fred Smoot on wide receiver Donald Driver exclusively, it resulted in limiting Driver to 13 yards in the second half after 101 yards in the first half.

This week in Carolina, it didn't matter that Smoot was mainly responsible for covering Smith … or which half it was. Smith simply beat Smoot nearly every opportunity he got. When the game had ended with a 38-13 Panthers win, Smith had a franchise-record 201 yards on 11 catches, including a touchdown.

The Carolina offense did nearly everything right, having six plays that netted at least 20 yards, and the Vikings dug a hole early before losing quarterback Daunte Culpepper at the end of the first quarter with what was initially diagnosed as a sprained right knee.

The Panthers got into scoring position on every possession in the first half, being stopped only once – when John Kasay's 55-yard field attempt came up short. By halftime, Carolina amassed a 24-0 lead, one that was never threatened in the 38-13 blowout.

At 2-5, the Vikings are now two games behind the NFC North-leading Chicago Bears, who are 4-3 after an overtime win in Detroit.

The Panthers opened with the ball and put the Vikings in an early deficit. It was their speedy running back and speedy wide receiver that did most of the damage. That speedy wide receiver, Smith, picked up the initial first down with a 13-yard reception on third-and-5. A 7-yard run by the speedy running back, DeShaun Foster, netted the next first down, and a 30-yard reception by Smith put the ball on the 7-yard line on the opening drive. The power running back, Stephen Davis, took it for the game's first score on the next play, giving the Panthers a 7-0 lead.

The offense was ineffective to start, just like most of the game, with Culpepper taking a sack on first down and feeling the pressure on a third-down incompletion.

The Panthers replied with another drive into Vikings territory with Foster as the workhorse, but Kasay left a 55-yard field goal attempt short.

The Vikings offense countered with its own drive into Carolina territory. Culpepper found Moe Williams for a checkdown, 11-yard reception for a first down. While the second holding penalty of the drive put the Vikings in a first-and-20 hole, a 10-yard pass to Jermaine Wiggins, 6-yard pass to Nate Burleson and an 18-yard scramble by Culpepper allowed the drive to continue, but the gang tackle on Culpepper resulted in a sprained right knee, knocking him out of the game on the final play of the first quarter. With pressure on backup Brad Johnson, the Panthers got to him for a third-down sack and Paul Edinger missed a 33-yard field goal wide right.

The Panthers seized momentum from there. A 38-yard reception to Michael Gaines put Carolina in field goal position, and this time Kasay converted on a 44-yarder for 10-0 lead with 9:45 to play in the first half.

After the Vikings went six-and-out, the Panthers went for the jugular, connecting on a 69-yard pass to Smith to the 1-yard line. From there, Davis capped the drive with a touchdown and a 17-0 Carolina lead with 3:57 to play.

But the Vikings' offensive inability allowed Smith and the Panthers one more shot. Foster picked up the initial first down at midfield. An 18-yard pass to Smith put them in scoring position, and five plays later a 13-yard pass to Smith earned them the score and a 24-0 lead at the half.

The Vikings needed a scoring play to open the second half and they got it. After a half-opening 18-yard pass to Wiggins, it looked like the drive would stall near midfield. Following two incompletions and a false start on Mike Rosenthal, Johnson was facing third-and-15, but a 46-yard bomb to Marcus Robinson put them on the doorstep of the end zone. Mewelde Moore sealed the drive with a 4-yard run to narrow the deficit to 24-7 3:15 into the second half.

The Panthers and Smith were undaunted. The wide receiver picked up the initial first down with a 24-yard reception on third-and-9. He moved the chains again with a 9-yard reception on second down, and Gaines followed that up with a 29-yard reception to the 6-yard line. After a 5-yard run by Davis, Delhomme play-faked and found Kris Mangum for the 1-yard touchdown pass and a 31-7 lead with 7:25 to play in the third quarter.

Minnesota's offense went back to its struggling methods and the teams exchanged a series of three punts before the Panthers went back to their efficient offense. A holding call on Smoot moved the chains for Carolina, and one set of downs later the same penalty on the same player produced another first down following a third-down play. Five plays later, Delhomme found Keary Colbert for a 25-yard touchdown pass and a 38-7 lead with 8:07 left in the game.

The Vikings used the mid-range passing game and 14-yard scramble by Johnson to get to the 10-yard line, but a run for no gain and three incompletions brought that possession to a quick end.

After a three-and-out series by the Panthers, the Vikings took their last possession with 3:10 to play. A 36-yard pass play to Troy Williamson on third down put the ball on the 14-yard line. After an incompletion and two scrambles by Johnson, the quarterback rolled right and found Robinson for a touchdown. When the two-point run by Moe Williams was stopped short, the Vikings' lopsided loss was sealed at 38-13.

With division leaders Detroit and Chicago playing each other, Minnesota couldn't make up ground. Instead, they fell another game behind the 4-3 Bears, who beat the Lions in overtime with an interception return for a touchdown. At 2-5, the Vikings aren't out of the NFC North race, but they have to find a way to end the outdoor blowouts if they stand any chance at redeeming their 2005 season.

Luckily for the Vikings and Smoot, they won't have to face Steve Smith in the regular season again this year.

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