Posted on December 10, 2017, by Travis Pulver

The Minnesota Vikings entered Sunday’s game against the Carolina Panthers in an enviable yet bad position. There isn’t a team in the NFL that would not want to be in such a good position that they have a chance to lock up their division heading into Week 14. But at the same time, such a scenario has been known to breed complacency.

Nothing turns a great team into a mediocre one quite like complacency.

Via @vikings_fanly

The version of the Vikings that took the field Sunday against the Carolina Panthers is not the one fans have come to know and love this season. After giving up just nine sacks from Week 2-13, they gave up a season-high six to the Panthers. Their No. 2 run defense that had been giving up only 77 yards a game gave up 216.

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Sounds bad, right? Well– it got worse.

Adam Thielen dropped a couple of passes in the end zone. Case Keenum (27-44 for 280 yards, two touchdowns, and two interceptions), who is normally as cool as they come when under pressure, couldn’t handle it this time (5-12, 5.3 yards/attempt, one touchdown, and one interception).

Throw in two interceptions and a fumble by Keenum, and you have the making for a blowout loss—bit it wasn’t. Carolina was able to control the game, but despite Minnesota’s early struggles, they were never able to generate enough offense to put the Vikings away.

The Panthers, especially running back Jonathan Stewart, were able to gash the Vikings defense running the ball (216 yards, three touchdowns). Stewart has struggled for much of the season (eight games with less than 50 yards rushing). But he turned on the jets for a 60-yard touchdown run on the opening drive of the game.

Panthers head coach Ron Rivera was more than happy to talk about his longtime running back after the game (ESPN):

” We didn’t doubt him. That’s why we kept putting Jonathan out there. We believe in who he is for us and he’s been solid. He’s worked hard and has gotten better and better, and he is getting stronger.”

When the day was done, Stewart carried the ball 16 times for 103 yards and three touchdowns. But take away his 60-yard run and Cam Newton’s 62-yard one, and the Panthers had 114 yards on 34 carries.

The Vikings would have been okay with only giving up 3.4 yards/carry. With the struggles Cam Newton had in the passing game (13-25 for 137 yards, one touchdown, and one interception), that would not have been the recipe for victory.

But Carolina was able to take a one-point lead into halftime, 14-13. By the time the fourth quarter rolled around, they had extended it to 24-13. But a 52-yard bomb from Keenum to Adam Thielen cut the deficit down to three, 24-21. Kai Forbath tied it up with a 27-yard field goal set up by Newton’s interception a few minutes later.

Via @Panthers24_7

With the game on the line, Carolina’s superstar quarterback answered. His 62-yard run on the ensuing drive got the Panthers inside the ten-yard line. Two plays later Jonathan Stewart recorded his third touchdown of the day to give the Panthers the lead, 31-24.

The Aftermath

Minnesota could have clinched the division with a win. But now head coach Mike Zimmer will be more concerned with making sure the effort against the Panthers was the exception and not the new rule. He’ll need to get his team to process how they played and put it behind them quickly. They face the Cincinnati Bengals next week.

Thanks to Atlanta’s win over New Orleans Thursday night, the win Panthers move into a tie on top of the NFC South. But the Saints own the tiebreaker. They will have to try to run the table and hope they get a little help down the stretch.

They face the Green Bay Packers at home next week.

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