By Joseph Gunther
The Minnesota Vikings got their first win of the season in Week 4, and had two weeks to prepare for the Carolina Panthers and play like that.
The Vikings (1-4) heard the boos from their home crowd for almost the entire game of the 35-10 loss.
Minnesota started with the ball and moved down the field, but an errant throw resulted in an interception. It all went down hill from there. Matt Cassel was able to connect with Kyle Rudolph for a touchdown, but it came with very little time remaining and the score well out of reach.
The Panthers (2-3) were able to do whatever they wanted and the Vikings could not stop it.
The Vikings offense had the ball one less drive than the Panthers, but ran six fewer plays, recorded five less first downs, had 77 less yards and committed two more turnovers.
The Vikings were not prepared for the Panthers blitzes. The offensive line looked confused and unaware of whether the fifth rusher was going to be a linebacker or defensive back.
The offensive unit never got into a rhythm.
No one on the Vikings offense had a good game, with the exception of Rudolph. The tight end recorded a game-high nine catches. He also had 97 yards and a touchdown.
The first Panthers offensive drive was a prelude to how the game was going to play out. Jamarca Sanford dropped an interception on the first play. Then Chris Cook held Steve Smith on a third-down sack by Chad Greenway that would have forced a punt. The Panthers kept the ball and moved into Vikings territory and was faced with a fourth-and-one. Mike Tolbert was tripped up by Erin Henderson, but not before getting two yards. The Vikings defense forced another fourth down play at the two-yard line, but could not stop Cam Newton from tossing a touchdown pass to Smith.
It continued poorly for the Vikings as the Panthers racked up 367 yards, averaged 5.6 yards per play and allowed Newton to post a quarterback rating of 143.4 – about 20 points higher than anything a Viking quarterback has put up in over three years.
Cassel lost the spark that helped the Vikings win their first win in London two weeks ago. He completed nearly 73 percent of his passes, but turned those completions into 5.5 yards per attempt. He made two critical mistakes that resulted in interceptions and 14 points for the Panthers. Both throws were way too high and off the mark to an open Greg Jennings. Jennings had no chance to make a play on the ball.
The Vikings signed Josh Freeman less than a week ago. Everyone knows the intention was to make him the starter at some point this season.
Head coach Leslie Frazier and offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave may have to create a game plan for Freeman against the New York Giants this week.
The special teams units got very few opportunities to do anything.
Cordarrelle Patterson and Marcus Sherels got no returns in the game. Panthers kicker Graham Gano sent all six kickoffs through the end zone – two came with the help of 15-yard penalties on the Vikings and punter Brad Nortman had short punt opportunities that caused three fair catches.
Jeff Locke was the star for the Vikings with three punts over 50 yards and one for 36 yards that was downed inside the Panthers 20-yard line. He also had three kicks that yielded two returns that did not get to the 20-yard line and one touchback.
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Joseph Gunther is an avid fan of Minnesota sports, including football, hockey and baseball. He covered a wide variety of sports while attending Hastings College in Hastings, Neb. While at Hastings College, he was a part of the first collegiate media group to broadcast a national tournament via television, radio, internet and newspaper at the 2004 NAIA Division II Women’s Basketball Tournament. He grew up in the Twin Cities playing three years of varsity football in high school. Joseph is a freelance writer covering all things NFL. His work can be found on Examiner.com.