Vikings coach Mike Zimmer has lined up the doubters and delivered them to his players as a motivational tool heading into Sunday’s game at Carolina.
And this time he doesn’t have to embellish.
You lose a left tackle and a Hall of Fame running back three weeks after you lose a franchise quarterback and, well, there’s going to be some outside doubt. Especially when the opponent is the reigning conference champs with the reigning league MVP (Cam Newton) and a 14-game home winning streak that includes a seven-game run of 37 or more points for the home squad.
Having now watched Carolina’s 46-27 win over the visiting 49ers on Sunday, the Vikings will if they take care of the ball and Panthers are as sloppy as they were against San Francisco. Of course, the scary part is Carolina was sloppy and turned the ball over four times, and still scored 46. So there’s a reason Vegas doubts the Vikings by 7 points.
Overview: Hard to believe, but only two weeks into the season and the Vikings are one of only three undefeated teams left in the NFC. And the other two — Giants and Eagles — are in the allegedly lowly NFC East. Carolina, however, remains the team to beat in the conference. The Panthers are 1-1 because they had to open the season on the road against Denver’s defense, seven months after being mauled by Denver’s defense in Super Bowl 50. Since losing to the Vikings 31-13 on a 12-degree day at TCF Bank Stadium in 2014, the Panthers are 22-3. Against teams other than Denver, they’re 22-1.
To the tape: Cam wasn’t perfect, but …
Watch the 49ers game and you’ll see Newton wasn’t all that sharp on several throws. He forced a throw over the middle on the second play of the game. It got tipped by a defender and intercepted, giving the 49ers the ball at the Carolina 22. The defense held San Francisco to a field goal. Later, Newton overthrew tight end Greg Olsen on a deep ball. He missed receiver Ted Ginn on a quick slant that would have gone 81 yards for a touchdown and on another deep ball when Ginn was open. However … . What makes Cam, well, Cam is he also launched some pinpoint deep balls that only a few quarterbacks in the world can make. He hit Ginn on a perfectly-placed 52-yarder in tight coverage. He also used that 6-5, 250-pound suit of armor to take a hit while delivering a short touchdown pass to Kelvin Benjamin. And, in the end, when the stats were all added up, Newton had 353 yards passing on 24 completions, four touchdowns, one interception and a 6.2-yard average on six rushes (although he did fumble the ball away on one particularly great escape from the pocket).
Mike Zimmer on Newton: Zimmer was asked if facing Marcus Mariota in Week 1 and Aaron Rodgers in Week 2 will help his defense get up to speed more quickly when it comes to Newton, the most dangerous of all mobile quarterbacks.
“Yeah, he’s much bigger and more physical,” Zimmer said. “I guess maybe it does. You have to be careful with how you rush him just like you do with the other two guys. I mean, the offenses are different, the protections are different. There’s a lot of different things and obviously there’s some similarities as well.
“They have a very innovative offense where they can use the quarterback runs, option game and misdirection. I does make it difficult. You have to be very disciplined in what you’re doing.”
More from the tape: Random thoughts
—San Francisco generated very little pressure on Newton. Carolina’s offensive line isn’t bad, but as Denver showed us in the Super Bowl and again in this year’s season opener, the tackles are vulnerable, especially former Viking Mike Remmers on the right side. Zimmer got uncomfortable this week when someone suggested his defense was similar to Denver’s in terms of pressure. It might not be on Denver’s level yet, but it’s far ahead of the 49ers.
—If Colin Kaepernick couldn’t beat out Blaine Gabbert, his career is farther down the drain than I thought before watching last week’s game. While completing 47 percent of his 36 throws, Gabbert looked like the classic example that not all great arms can play quarterback in the NFL. More than half of Gabbert’s throws were so wild, he couldn’t have won his girlfriend a stuffed animal at the country fair on Sunday. Look for Sam Bradford to be a big step up for Carolina’s defenders.
—Fozzy Whittaker might look like Darren Sproles sometimes, but he’s an easier target to hit. With Jonathan Stewart leaving the game with a hamstring injury that will also knock him out of the Vikings game, Whittaker had 100 yards on just 16 carries. But he also gave the ball up on a hard hit. Don’t think the Vikings aren’t thinking about that.
—I don’t think Zimmer’s defense will forget to cover tight end Greg Olsen on a deep post down the middle of the field. That’s what the 49ers did right after they took a 10-7 lead. Newton had the easiest 78-yard touchdown pass of his career.
—Vikings receiver Laquon Treadwell was billed as a “big receiver” receiver coming out of the draft. But he’d look like a child if you stood him next to Carolina wideouts Kelvin Benjamin (6-5, 245) and Devin Funchess (6-4, 225). With those two and Olsen (6-5, 255), the Panthers look like they have three big tight ends with extraordinary speed. Benjamin looks like the world’s fastest defensive end running down the field. On one particular 25-yard completion to Benjamin, safety Jimmie Ward did everything perfect and still got beat simply because he’s six inches shorter and 53 pounds lighter. This would be a real good week for Xavier Rhodes to return.
—Linebacker Luke Kuechly is so steady. Never out of position. Always senses where the ball is going. Great fundamentals and enough speed to use them efficiently. He had eight tackles by halftime. He also intercepted a pass, although Gabbert threw it right to him.
—Ginn is a very nice complement of speed to go with the giant receivers. He’s also a threat on kickoffs, although he was inconsistent last week. He had a 59-yarder that he almost broke for a touchdown. But he also muffed a kick that San Francisco recovered at the 1.
—Carolina’s choreographed excessive celebrating continued when Newton threw a touchdown pass to make it a 31-10 game. Flags were thrown when two receivers got together to dance. Then Newton danced with a receiver. Then Newton went to the sideline and pretended to shoot a fadeaway jumper with another teammate. Two cents: Cam, you’re too great a player to be overshadowing your play with pre-programmed routines while up by three touchdowns.
Key stat: 100, 100, 100, 300.
For the first time in franchise history, the Panthers are coming off a game in which they had two 100-yard receivers (Olsen 122, Benjamin 108), a 100-yard rusher and a 300-yard passer.