Grading the Game: Panthers

Amazing what a win can do. With a 20-10 win over the previously unbeaten Carolina Panthers, none of the Vikings' units received below-average grades in what was a fairly solid all-around performance.

PASSING OFFENSE: C-plus — Gus Frerotte wasn't spectacular in his first start, but the 37-year-old veteran did provide a calming influence that was lacking in the first two games when Tarvaris Jackson was under center. Frerotte completed 16 of 28 passes for 204 yards with one touchdown and one interception. Not exactly quick on his feet, he was sacked three times. But Frerotte also completed the Vikings' longest pass play of the season when he hit wide receiver Bernard Berrian for 48 yards on third-and-7 early in the third quarter. Two plays later Frerotte connected with tight end Visanthe Shiancoe on a 34-yard touchdown. This came after Shiancoe had dropped his third pass of the season in the first quarter and Berrian had tipped a ball from Frerotte that resulted in an interception. The pass was thrown slightly behind Berrian but certainly could have been caught.

RUSHING OFFENSE: B — With Adrian Peterson nursing a sore hamstring, the Pro Bowl running back and veteran Chester Taylor shared much of the workload. Taylor, who had averaged 4.5 carries in the first two games, gained 44 yards on 11 carries. Peterson had 77 yards on 17 attempts. Peterson's 14-yard rush in the fourth quarter was the longest running play of the day for the Vikings. The Vikings' play calling was much more evenly split than it had been the previous week in a loss to the Colts. In that game, the Vikings attempted 35 runs and 24 passes. Sunday, Minnesota had 32 runs and 28 passes. Peterson, by the way, failed to reach the 100-yard rushing mark for the first time in a game this season.

PASS DEFENSE: B — After giving up 311 yards through the air against the Colts, the Vikings appeared as if they could be in for a long day going against Panthers standout receiver Steve Smith. Smith had been suspended for the first two games of the season and was salivating at the opportunity to play against one of the league's most suspect pass defenses. On the first play from scrimmage, Panthers quarterback Jake Delhomme threw a 16-yard pass to Smith and 15 more yards were tacked on because of a facemask penalty on cornerback Cedric Griffin. But after that Smith caught only three more passes — one came in the second half. Delhomme finished with 191 yards passing, completing 17 of 29 throws. He also was sacked five times, including twice by Kevin Williams. Williams and Jared Allen combined for five of the seven-quarterback hurries the Vikings recorded. That type of pressure is exactly what the Vikings envisioned when they went out and traded for Allen in hopes that an improved pass rush would make the pass defense that much better.

RUSH DEFENSE: A — A week after the Colts managed to average 1.3 yards on 19 carries against the Vikings, the Panthers tested Minnesota 20 times on the ground and averaged 2.4 yards per carry. The Vikings' run defense was the best in the NFL last season and continues to be among the league's elite. Since the Packers' Ryan Grant burst free for a 57-yard run in Week 1, the longest run play against the Vikings has been a 9-yarder by Carolina's Jonathan Stewart. Interestingly, enough the Vikings success against the Panthers came with Fred Evans seeing increased reps in place of Pat Williams at nose tackle.

SPECIAL TEAMS: C — The Vikings might have suffered a serious blow with linebacker Vinny Ciurciu suffering a knee injury, although Ciurciu said he was fine in a brief locker-room appearance Tuesday. Special-teams standout Heath Farwell, also a linebacker, went down with a season-ending knee injury in the Vikings' first preseason game. The Vikings did little in the return game with Aundrae Allison muffing a punt and finished with three fair catches and zero return yards. Chester Taylor averaged 22 yards on two returns. The Vikings almost got burned on a kick return, but Jonathan Stewart's return to the Vikings 9 was negated by a penalty. Punter Chris Kluwe did his job, averaging 52.6 on five punts, and kicker Ryan Longwell made field goals of 28 and 32 yards.

COACHING: B — Brad Childress' decision to turn to Gus Frerotte proved to be a wise choice. With Frerotte running the show, the Vikings were able to do a few more things in terms of play calling and also balance their run and pass ratios a bit. Coordinator Leslie Frazier got the most out of his up-tempo defense. The unit sparked the victory when cornerback Antoine Winfield sacked Jake Delhomme late in the second quarter and then returned the quarterback's fumble 19 yards for a touchdown. Winfield's sack came as a result of a blitz that was called from the Vikings' nickel package. It was the first time that blitz had been called with Winfield at the left corner instead of playing inside in the nickel.


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