Vikings limit Smith, running game

The Vikings have made a point of shutting down opponents' running games the last two years, but on Sunday they also got enough pressure on the quarterback to help keep dangerous receiver Steve Smith in check.

Who would have thought the Carolina Panthers offense would take a step back after Steve Smith returned to the lineup?

But that's exactly what happened on Sunday as the Panthers fell from the ranks of the unbeaten with a 20-10 loss at Minnesota.

Carolina's offensive line struggled against Minnesota's Pro Bowl-laden defensive line at the loud Metrodome, allowing five sacks on Jake Delhomme, one of which resulted in a tide-turning 19-yard touchdown return by Antoine Winfield.

"I think Minnesota did a fine job as far as creating pressure that limited our passing game to a certain degree," coach John Fox said. "With Steve, I thought he had a good week of practice, but we had some problems getting the football actually out of the quarterback's hands."

The Panthers will be looking for more consistency this week when they face the upstart Atlanta Falcons, who are thriving under rookie quarterback Matt Ryan.

"Their down four is the best group we have faced so far," said offensive tackle Jordan Gross. "They had guys coming free and it was hard for Jake to find anyone downfield."

The Panthers hope to get their running game back on track this week against the Falcons. DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart were limited to a combined 42 yards on 17 carries.

With the Vikings defense so disruptive, Delhomme was held to 191 yards and fumbled three times, two of those resulting in turnovers.

"We're going to take it and dissect the tape, whether we want to or not, and improve on it. I think we will. After Monday when we watch the film, we're going to come in with a new game plan and get to work on a new opponent."

Smith had four catches for 70 yards, but only one reception for 10 yards after halftime.

"They played great," Smith said. "Their front seven did an outstanding job. The secondary did a good job as well. We made a lot of mistakes as a group. I know individually guys made mistakes but when we do it affects us all as a group. ... And we (as an offense) wore our defense down by the mistakes that we made."

Regardless of the outcome, Smith was relieved to put this game behind him and move on to next week.

"Just getting the game over with was a big relief," he said. "It was great to get out there — kind of emotional for me — but it was good to get it over with."

QUOTE TO NOTE: "We play 16 games and you are not going to win all of them. Even the Patriots, they didn't win them all last year. You are going to take everything in and you just have to learn from them and get better from them." — DE Julius Peppers, on how to deal with Carolina's first loss.

TRENDING: The Panthers had 11 false-start penalties in the last two games.

LINEUP WATCH: The only injury reported by coach John Fox on Sunday was to rookie linebacker Dan Connor, the team's third-round draft pick out of Penn State. He left with a knee injury. It doesn't sound good, but Connor will be reevaluated Monday when the team gets back to Charlotte. If the injury is serious, the Panthers may bring back Donte Curry, who was cut last week, to take his place on special teams.

UNDER THE RADAR: Don't be surprised if the Panthers give some consideration to starting rookie Jonathan Stewart, who has three touchdown runs in the last two games. Stewart has been working behind DeAngelo Williams and generally not getting in the game until the second quarter. But given Stewart's 240-pound frame, the Panthers might be better off letting Stewart inflict some pain on the defense and then mixing things up by bringing in Williams off the bench. That said, coach John Fox likes his veterans and will probably stick with Williams at least for the time being. At some point though, expect Stewart to start a few games for the Panthers this season.

BY THE NUMBERS: 1 — Number of passing touchdowns by Jake Delhomme after three games this season. He had eight at this point last year before suffering a season-ending injury.


  • LB Dan Connor left Sunday's game with a knee injury and did not return.

  • CB Chris Gamble came up with his third turnover of the season on Sunday when he intercepted Gus Frerotte.

  • K John Kasay is now a perfect 7-for-7 on field goals this season.

  • QB Jake Delhomme was sacked five times and fumbled three times in Carolina's loss to Minnesota. The Vikings were all over him right from the start.

  • WR Steve Smith, in his first game back from a two-game suspension, is about the only one who did anything on offense (four receptions for 70 yards) but it wasn't enough.

  • DE Julius Peppers enjoyed his best game of the season, finishing with three tackles, three quarterback hurries and one sack.

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