The Panthers started their toughest stretch of the schedule against the Vikings, with the other NFC wild card teams breathing down their neck. They came out with an emphatic win over the 10-2 Vikings to keep the playoffs alive.
- This rushing attack showed up today, and on the back of (surprisingly) Jonathan Stewart. The team as a whole rushed for 216 yards, but the much maligned Jonathan Stewart ran 16 times for 103 yards and THREE touchdowns, including a 60 yard score to start the game off.
- The box score won’t show this, but the defense showed up today. Both of the Panthers starting corners came up with picks after not having a single pick by a CB all season. The defense sacked Case Keenum 6 times and kept him rattled all day. They could have put up 10 sacks were it not for the elusiveness of Keenum in the pocket.
- Special shout out to Luke Kuechly. After a bad game (to his standards) last week, he came out with 14 total tackles and a sack today.
- Despite a really difficult matchup, Devin Funchess still showed up today with 3 catches for 59 yards and a TD. Two of his catches were pivotal, as one set up a Jonathan Stewart rushing TD and the other was a score of his own as Cam Newton kept the play alive and found him in the endzone.
- Cam didn’t play particularly well, and his interception was 100% on him for throwing off his back foot. That said, he made plays when the Panthers needed him to.
- I would say Daryl Worley played his best game of his career today.
The Panthers kicked off to start the first half, and started strong with two tackles for a loss as the defense swarmed the Vikings. On 2nd and 14, Case Keenum threw a pass under pressure that was intercepted by Daryl Worley, the first interception by a Panthers cornerback of the season. The Panthers pushed to a 3rd and 1, where they brought out the heavy set that allowed Jonathan Stewart to rip off a 60 yard TD. The Vikings came right back with a 10 play, 75 yard TD drive that ended with a touchdown pass to Kyle Rudolph that fell inches above Michael Adams’ hands as he went for an INT. The Panthers were able to score again with the fortunes of two facemask penalties by the Vikings defense, a huge 22 yard catch by Devin Funchess, and a 1 yard run by Jonathan Stewart for his second touchdown of the day, putting the score at 14-7 Panthers. After all that scoring output, both teams spent most of the first half trading punts. The Vikings were able to kick two field goals off the legs of Case Keenum, eluding sacks and keeping drives alive to close out the first half.
To open the second half, the Panthers had a nice touchdown drive. Long completions to Christian McCaffery and Damiere Byrd put them in scoring range, and Cam Newton made magic happen in the redzone as he managed to create time and find Devin Funchess for an 18 yard TD, putting them ahead 21-13. On the following drive, Mario Addison managed to create a sack fumble on the first play, ending the drive and allowing the Panthers a field goal for the offense. The Vikings had to punt on their next drive, but they pinned Carolina inside their own 2. The Panthers were forced to punt, giving the Vikings a short field to work with. However, a negative rush and a sack by Luke Kuechly later made a tough field goal try for Kai Forbath, which he missed keeping the score at 24-13. The Panthers had to punt once again, but the defense stepped up with a pick by James Bradberry on a tipped pass. However, the offense once again could not capitalize, and then the Vikings finally struck back with a 52 yard touchdown reception by Adam Thielen, along with a completed two point conversion to close the lead to just three points for the Panthers. The offense took over to try and kill clock, but a bad pass by Cam Newton on 3rd down was tipped by McCaffery and picked by the Vikings, with the return bringing it inside the 10. The defense again stepped up, with a sack on 3rd down by Kawann Short to force a field goal. With the game tied, the offense took over, and finally did something. Cam Newton took a rush 62 yards down the field into scoring distance, and then Jonathan Stewart capped it off with his 3rd touchdown of the day to put the Panthers ahead 31-24. The defense did it’s job with another sack by Kawann Short and a turnover on downs for the defense. The offense finished the game for a BIG win.
The Panthers face the Packers at home next week, in a game where Aaron Rodgers could potentially return. This was a huge win, but the NFC wild card race continues despite this. The Panthers still need to win a few more to push into the playoffs. Just WIN BABY WIN!