1. Third-down woes get worse
There were no good downs against Panthers QB Cam Newton. But third down was particularly bad for the Vikings. Newton went 5-for-5 for 119 yards, one 79-yard TD and two first downs, and also ran four times for 22 yards, a TD and two more first downs. The Panthers converted 58 percent of their third downs (7-for-12) against the league’s 30th-ranked third-down defense (47.3 percent). Vikings DE Brian Robison might want an asterisk next to Newton’s 7-yard touchdown run on third-and-goal. When a flag was thrown, Robison assumed it was on Panthers right tackle Byron Bell for holding. Wrong. It was on Robison for unnecessary roughness for hitting Newton in the head. Replays showed Robison not only didn’t hit Newton’s head, but he also has a solid case about being held. “Absolutely,” Robison said. “I’m pulling Cam’s arm, trying to pull him to me. And as he’s running away, I’m getting pulled the other way. But what are you going to do? That’s kind of how things went for us on third downs.”
2. Cook: ‘I didn’t hold’ on Greenway’s sack
A week of film study told the Vikings to send five or more rushers after Newton in passing situations. In a 22-6 loss the week before, Newton saw five or more rushers an amazing 60 percent of the time he dropped back to pass, and all four of his turnovers (three interceptions and a fumble) came against the blitz. He also was sacked seven times. “That was the plan,” linebacker Chad Greenway said. “We knew that we were going to have some opportunities to get after the running backs and get to the quarterback.” The Vikings didn’t blitz at a 60 percent clip, but they dialed it up at the first opportunity on what could have been an early tone-setter. On Carolina’s third offensive snap of the game, a third-and-9, Greenway was the extra rusher. He got to Newton for a sack, did his high-kicking sack dance and … doh! Flag. Holding on CB Chris Cook on Steve Smith. First down, Panthers. “You think you got a big stop and you’re off the field, but you turn around and there’s a flag,” Greenway said. “That just sort of started the mystery for the day.” Cook swears he didn’t hold Smith. “I know I didn’t grab him,” Cook said. “I just jammed him so hard, he fell.”
3. Peterson gets only 10 carries, can’t exert his will
Adrian Peterson had one of the quieter games of his career. Half of his 62 yards came on one 31-yard carry. His other nine carries averaged 3.4 yards. A year after posting a career-high 27 carries of 20 yards or longer, Peterson has four through five games. (Of course, he only had three through five games a year ago as he eased back in from torn knee ligaments the year before.) Peterson didn’t do much after contact against the Panthers’ seventh-ranked run defense. He had 23 yards after first contact, with a long of 7 on his 31-yard run.
4. Deep-ball blunders
In his Vikings debut against the Steelers two weeks ago, Matt Cassel completed two of four passes that traveled 20 or more yards from the line of scrimmage. One of them produced a 51-yard gain and the other was a touchdown. Sunday, Cassel was 1-for-4 with two interceptions. He was 0-for-3 with two interceptions when Greg Jennings was the target. One pick sailed 25 yards while the other went 20 yards. The lone completion went 20 yards in the air for a 21-yard gain to Kyle Rudolph.
5. Newton’s quarterback rating is a career high
So much for worrying about Newton’s read-option keepers. He tried it three times and gained a total of zero yards. Two were tackles for loss. However, Newton, the No. 1 overall pick in 2011, did post the highest passer rating of his career (143.4). Of course, that’s what happens when you complete 76.9 percent of your passes for three touchdowns, no interceptions and a 9.3-yard average per attempt.