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Panthers 13, Vikings 31 Recap: Black, Blue, Purple All Over

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Two blocked Brad Nortman punts were returned for touchdowns, and that was all she wrote. The Carolina Panthers could not overcome the early deficit and lose in Minnesota, 31-13.

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Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports

Break up this team, break up this staff.

Unless major changes happen with this franchise, Carolina Panthers fans should expect the lose the rest of the season.

We need a "Blame Wheel" on CSR, where we spin it and the cause of loss will be predicted pre-game. We could put:

1) Bad offensive line
2) Poor safety play
3) Horrible special teams
4) Uninspiring play-calling
5) Cam trying to do too much

And wherever it lands, it would be right. And it would’ve been right for every loss this season.

The majority of the blame will land on the special teams for today’s loss, as the Panthers had two - count them, two - punts blocked and returned for touchdowns.

Of course, that was not the only reason why they lost, but add in the other factors on the "Blame Wheel" and it adds up to yet ANOTHER blowout loss this year. The Panthers have been blown out against Pittsburgh, Baltimore, Green Bay, New Orleans, Philadelphia, and now Minnesota, losing 31-13. The Panthers are winless in 7 straight games, and have not won since October 5.

The turning point

You know it is bad when the turning point of the game is the SECOND blocked punt returned for a touchdown. Early in the second quarter, down 14-3, and with Carolina dominating the time of possession and yards gained, the Panthers were forced to punt. Minnesota even left their defense in, and linebacker Jasper Brinkley broke through to block Brad Nortman’s kick. Everson Griffen recovered the ball and took it 43 yards to the house. The score became 21-3 early, and became a deficit the Panthers could not overcome.

What we learned

Cam Newton is doing the best job he can. Critics that do not watch Panthers games will blame all this on Cam. But really, with 1) an inept playcaller in Mike Shula, 2) 7th different starting offensive line this season, and 3) a different starting running backs in the middle of the season, what else can you expect from Cam? He has had an interception in 8 straight games, but really, it is a result of Cam having to do too much.

Kelvin Benjamin is pretty good No. 2 receiver, not No. 1. He is targeted a ridiculous amount of times (12 today) but converts few of them (5 today). No matter how many times Cam tries to get him the ball, he cannot get the difficult catches that is expected from a No. 1 receiver. He’s good for sure, but he cannot be trusted like a No. 1 wide receiver should.

Jonathan Stewart needs to be the lead back. There is nothing we have seen all season that has led us to believe that DeAngelo Williams deserves to start. It could be age, or the injuries, but Williams just is not that gamebreaking running back he used to be. Stewart, on the other hand, has new life, breaking tackles and running with a vengeance. Sure, he has an injury history, but while he is healthy, he deserves most, if not all, the touches out of the backfield.

Carolina is not winning the NFC South, nor should they. This is supposed to be the "easy" part of the schedule, but as I cautioned earlier this season, it is only easy if the team is actually good. Losses to two sub-.500 teams later, it is clear that this is not their year. Panthers fans need to stop pretending that they can still win this division.

The bottom line

I will bang the same drum I bang every week; if everything is the problem, then the problem starts at the top. I call out Mike Shula (offensive coordinator) and Richard Rodgers (special teams coordinator) for sure, but bigger blame should go towards the people who keep entrusting them with these units. Head coach Ron Rivera and general manager Dave Gettleman, thanks a lot for a terrible team and season.

The good

Jonathan Stewart. Possibly the only Panthers star of the day. Played like a mini "Beast Mode" today, amassing over 100 yards from scrimmage (85 yards rushing, 25 yards receiving, and breaking tackles at will.

Thomas Davis and Luke Kuechly. I say this every week, but they are the only ones that visibly look like they are sick of losing. Together they combined for 16 tackles, and Kuechly added two big sacks in the second half.

Kony Ealy. Played well, got some pressure when he was in, and helped cause one of Kuechly’s sacks.

Corey "Don’t Call Me Philly" Brown. Broke free for a long touchdown (and the only TD of the day). If Jason Avant’s release means more Corey Brown, I’m all for it.

The bad

Cam Newton. Doesn’t play well when he has to do too much.

Play-calling. The Panthers can learn a lot from the Vikings as to how to play call when you have a limited offense.

Antoine Cason. Totally burned on the Greg Jennings touchdown.

Byron Bell. Griffen is a hard matchup for anyone, but Bell was burned by him multiple times when it counted. One day we are going to look back and say, "Why did we start Byron Bell to protect Cam Newton’s blind side?!"

The injuries

Tre Boston went out of the game with an ankle injury. Benjamin left with a wrist or hand injury, but returned to the game,

Up next

Just when it could not get any worse, the Panthers play the Saints at New Orleans, who are hot after a decisive win against the Steelers in Pittsburgh. This may not be pretty.

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