The Vikings secondary began its Sunday with safety Jamarca Sanford dropping an easy interception. Things went downhill from there.
Panthers quarterback Cam Newton posted a career-high 143.4 passer rating, completing 76.9 percent of his passes with three touchdowns, no turnovers, one sack and a 9.3-yard average per completion against a team that played worse than its 29th-placed ranking in pass defense.
“This is embarrassing,” cornerback Chris Cook said after a 35-10 loss at Mall of America Field. “I feel like everybody feels the same way.”
If they don’t, they probably should. After all, the Panthers came in ranked 30th in passing and 27th in scoring at 18.5 points per game.
Cook’s holding penalty on Steve Smith negated what would have been an early drive-stopping sack by Chad Greenway on Carolina’s third offensive snap. Thirteen plays later, Smith beat embattled slot corner Josh Robinson on a crossing route for a 2-yard touchdown.
“There was a lot of traffic inside, and I just got crossed up,” Robinson said. “I got to get through the traffic and make a play on the ball.”
It wouldn’t be Robinson’s first gaffe of the day. Nor the worst one.
With the Vikings trailing 14-3 on the third snap of the second half, Robinson blew his zone coverage responsibility, creating a massive opening for Newton to throw one of the easiest 79-yard touchdown passes that you will ever see at this level.
Robinson said he got “caught up playing the down and distance [third-and-3].” He was looking into the backfield while Brandon LaFell was blazing past him.
“They ran a deeper route than I expected,” Robinson said. “I have to be more aware and be there for that play.”
Frazier and the Vikings have supported Robinson through a rough start as the guy who replaced Antoine Winfield, who was released in March. But that might change. Frazier rotated Marcus Sherels with Robinson by pregame design Sunday, but it sounds as if the coach might be open to a full-time change.
“We’ll evaluate it this week and just see what’s going on at that position,” Frazier said.
Although Winfield is staying in shape in Houston, the chances of him showing up at Winter Park diminish even further with each loss.
“I won’t get into that,” Cook said. “Some guys got in trouble for talking about personnel earlier in the year, so I won’t get into it. Antoine is a good guy, and I miss him being around, his personality and leadership.”
Although the Vikings didn’t stop the run very well either (131 yards and two touchdowns), there’s more frustration mounting with the pass defense. Newton went 5-for-5 for 119 yards and a touchdown on third downs.
The Panthers also scored touchdowns on all four trips into the red zone, including a 10-yard reception in which fullback Mike Tolbert broke four tackles.
And things could get worse considering the secondary’s two best players — safety Harrison Smith (turf toe) and cornerback Xavier Rhodes (ankle) — left Sunday’s game because of injuries.
“Coming out of halftime, we thought, ‘All right, it could have been a lot worse,’ ” defensive end Jared Allen said. “And then we give up what felt like a 200-yard pass. It’s not funny, but at some point you just have to laugh about it, like, ‘What in the heck is going on?’ ”