Vikings' Sunday night slide continues

The Vikings had perhaps their worst performance of the season in a 26-7 loss to Carolina on Sunday night. It came only two weeks after another bad Sunday night loss, but this time it was to a losing team.

Sunday nights have proven to be downright unholy for the Vikings. After taking their second loss of the season on a Sunday night in Arizona, Minnesota's players were looking for a better accounting against the Panthers.

Their prayers went unanswered and their performance only got worse in Carolina, quite possibly the worst game Minnesota has played this season. The Panthers dominated the Vikings in nearly every phase. They were better converting third downs, gaining yards – rushing and receiving – and controlling the ball.

The Vikings clinched the NFC North division before they ever played a down Sunday night and the Panthers were eliminated from the playoffs, but Minnesota didn't have much to celebrate by the time their 26-7 beatdown in Carolina had ended.

Adrian Peterson couldn't get a running game going for the second prime-time game in a row. He had 35 yards on 12 carries and a touchdown. On the other side of the ball, Carolina's Jonathan Stewart snapped the Vikings' 36-game streak of not allowing a 100-yard rusher as he went for 109 yards on 25 carries and had a touchdown rushing and receiving.

Matt Moore, making his third straight start, was better than his elder counterpart, Brett Favre. Moore completed 21 of 33 passes for 299 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions for a 123.2 rating. Favre completed 17 of 27 passes for 224 yards, no touchdowns and an interception for a 73.7 rating.

Carolina receiver Steve Smith turned back time to 2005, when he also torched the Vikings defense, but this time he did it much of the time with Antoine Winfield trying to cover him. Smith caught nine passes for 157 yards and a touchdown. He also had a touchdown that was negated because of a holding call.

Despite all the negativity on the stat sheet, the Vikings still had a 7-6 halftime lead, but Carolina put a stranglehold on the game with 20 unanswered points in the fourth quarter.

The start of the game was similar to the first quarter last Sunday against Cincinnati with no scoring, but this time it was the Panthers with the momentum early in the second quarter. Following a missed Ryan Longwell field goal, the Panthers took possession on their own 29-yard line and moved convincingly through the Vikings defense with intermediate gains. They had only two plays gain double-digit yardage – a 15-yard pass to Smith and a 14-yarder to Muhsin Muhammed – but Smith had three receptions on the drive, two of them going for first downs. It ended with a 1-yard play-action pass to fullback Brad Hoover. The Carolina lead was only 6-0 when the extra point was blocked.

The Vikings got the edge in field position after an exchange of punts and started their fifth drive in Carolina territory, picking up a first down with 7-yard gains by Peterson and Chester Taylor. Peterson ripped off a 10-yard run and Favre got it inside the 5-yard line with a 14-yard pass to Sidney Rice. On the next play, Peterson powered past two tackle attempts and bulled his way into the end zone for a 4-yard touchdown and a 7-6 Vikings lead with 5:01 to play in the half.

The Panthers answered with a drive that featured three more passes to Smith and advanced to the 29-yard line before calling a timeout with four seconds left in the half. John Kasay came on for a 47-yard field goal, but a false start backed up the Panthers 5 yards and head coach John Fox pulled his field goal unit off the field and elected for a Hail Mary that Tyrell Johnson knocked down to keep the Vikings with the one-point halftime lead.

Like the first quarter, the third quarter was a celebration of punting, with only a fumble by Sidney Rice following a 23-yard reception breaking that pattern. But late in third, the Panthers started their fourth drive of the half in Vikings territory and took advantage. They bounced back and forth between gains, penalties and sacks but ended up converting an improbable play when Smith caught a 42-yard touchdown on third-and-26 to give the Panthers a 12-7 lead early in the fourth quarter.

As it turned out, it would be the first of three consecutive drives that resulted in Panthers touchdowns. Stewart started the second of those drives with a 23-yard run and Smith put it on the doorstep of the goal line with a 45-yard reception to the 3-yard line. One play later, Stewart gave second and third efforts as he slid off tackles and scored to give the Panthers a 19-7 lead as they started to pull away with 9:23 to play.

For the second straight drive, the Vikings garnered only one first down and the Panthers sealed their win with one final touchdown drive. Once again, Smith was a major reason. He converted the initial third down of the drive with a 16-yard catch, but the backbreaker was a 35-yard reception to the 5-yard line. Stewart capped that drive, too, this time with a 2-yard reception for the final points with 5:01 to play.

Peterson tried to keep hope alive when he ripped off a 63-yard gain on a screen pass, but he was caught at the 16-yard line and Favre threw an interception in the end zone to end all thoughts of a desperation comeback.

All three Vikings losses have come on the road, but the latest has to be considered the worst considering the record of the opponent at the time and the complete domination. Most teams want momentum heading into the playoffs. After laying two eggs in three weeks, the Vikings have two weeks to try to regain momentum and hold onto the second spot in the NFC playoffs.

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