Coming into Sunday night's game the Panthers had one of the NFL's worst defenses against the rush, while Minnesota had been a top-10 NFL running team. The Vikings were averaging 125 yards rushing per game and 4.2 yards per carry this season. The Panthers were allowing 137.3 yards per game and 4.6 yards per carry.
Minnesota's gameplan on offense early was to establish the run. Surely the Vikings figured they would have success and open up their passing game against one of the NFL's top five pass defenses.
That did not happen. The Panthers held Minnesota to 41 yards on the ground for the game. Minnesota ran the ball only 14 times (for 2.9 yards a carry), all but abandoning its running game after failing to score a point in its first four drives of the game.
The Panthers' ability to shut down Minnesota's running game, primarily standout tailback Adrian Peterson, was a major reason why the Panthers shocked Minnesota 26-7. Carolina dominated the game, holding the ball for 38 minutes and posting a 397-237 edge in total yards. Carolina also held the Vikings to 10 first downs and stuffed 9 of 10 Minnesota third-down attempts.
That dominance started early, when the Panthers bottled up Peterson on four key runs. Here is a look at those plays, plus another key stuff of a Peterson run in the fourth quarter:
The situation: Second-and-3, ball on the Carolina 40. 0-0 score, early in the first quarter.
What happened: Peterson ran right for a 1-yard loss.
How it happened: Peterson ran around right end, where Panthers linebacker Jon Beason tackled him.
The result: Minnesota faced a third-and-4 on its opening possession. After rushing for a combined 9 yards while trying runs on three of its first four plays of the game, quarterback Brett Favre was promptly sacked on a passing play. The Vikings punted on fourth down.
The situation: First-and-10, Carolina 25. 0-0 tie, 5:25 to play in first.
What happened: Following a big punt return, the Vikings took over at the Panthers' 25. Peterson carried on the next two plays, for a total of 4 yards,
How it happened: Peterson ran up the middle for 3 yards on first down, but then linebacker James Anderson stuffed him for a 1-yard gain when he tested the middle again on second down.
The result: Minnesota faced a third-and-6 and again elected to throw on third down. Favre threw incomplete, Ryan Longwell missed a 39-yard field goal attempt on fourth down and the game was still tied.
The situation: Third-and-1, Minnesota 45. 6-0 Carolina leads. 10 minutes to play in second quarter.
What happened: Peterson was stuffed for a 1-yard loss.
How it happened: Peterson ran over right tackle, where Anderson and linebacker Nail Diggs combined to tackle him for the loss.
The result: Minnesota faced a fourth down in its own territory and punted. More than 20 minutes into the game, the Vikings still had not scored. Minnesota promptly abandoned its running game. After calling for 7 runs in their first 14 offensive plays, the Vikings ran the ball only 7 more times in their final 31 plays.
The situation: First-and-10, Minnesota 15. 12-7 Carolina leads, 14:49 to play in fourth quarter.
What happened: Peterson ran for 1 yard.
How it happened: Peterson ran around right end, where defensive linemen Damione Lewis and Charles Johnson wrapped him up.
The result: Minnesota faced a second-and-long and called for a Favre pass. The Vikings picked up the first down, but did not attempt to run the ball again. Minnesota called 10 consecutive pass plays to close the game, including four on this drive -- which ended in a punt. By the time the Vikings got the ball back, they trailed by two scores (19-7) with just over nine minutes to play.