No less an authority than Terry Bradshaw, who quarterbacked the Steelers to four Super Bowl titles and is the star of Fox’s pregame and postgame NFL coverage, had this to say after the Vikings’ 22-10 win over Carolina: “In all my years in football I have never seen any team sack a quarterback [like Cam Newton] eight times.”
Yes, it was unbelievable.
I might not be an expert like Bradshaw, but I have seen every single Vikings home game they’ve played in Minnesota. The Vikings’ second-half performance in shutting out a Super Bowl team that had won 14 straight games at home was the best second half they have ever played. And that includes the four Vikings Super Bowl teams.
Anybody who thought the seven-point-underdog Vikings would dominate Carolina like they did, especially after losing Adrian Peterson, Matt Kalil and Sharrif Floyd this week, was being especially hopeful.
And that’s not even talking about the number of players who went down because of injuries during the game, including standout left guard Alex Boone.
“I think our team believes,’’ coach Mike Zimmer told reporters in Charlotte after the game. ‘‘No one else believes, but I think our team believes. I think they believed they could come in here and win. At the end of the day it’s three games, and we still have 13 left to go.
“But I do think that they know they played a good football team today in their backyard and were able to come out with a win. It was hard-fought, and it was a great game. Our guys fought.”
Early in the game, though, it didn’t look good.
In the first quarter the Vikings looked overwhelmed, falling behind 10-0 just nine minutes into the game. They got two huge plays, a safety by defensive end Danielle Hunter late in the first quarter and a Marcus Sherels punt return for a touchdown late in the second quarter, that completely changed the game.
And then came the second half when the defense shut down Newton, who completed just eight of 17 passes for 95 yards and two interceptions after halftime. He was sacked five times and looked confused at Zimmer’s defensive scheme. At one time late in the fourth quarter Newton was just 1-for-5 passing with an interception in the second half.
Sacks changed game
Zimmer was asked how his team was able to get to Newton, who was sacked just 33 times all of last season, eight times. And furthermore how the Vikings held the Panthers, who led the NFL with an average of 31.3 points per game last year and to date were averaging 33 points per game, to 10.
“A lot of it was individual effort,” Zimmer said. “Guys rushed the quarterback good today. Early in the ballgame, and they do this a lot anyway, but they had a lot of max protection things. If you can get him in max protection, then it kind of gets the other team a little bit uneasy. It was important we did that. We had a couple coverage sacks, had a couple pressures, and we had a couple, individual things.”
All of that pressure led to Newton’s worst regular-season passer rating in 24 starts, a measly 47.6. Last year’s NFL MVP completed 21 of 35 passes for 262 yards and three interceptions.
Newton said that the game completely shifted when the Vikings sacked him for a safety.
“They were dictating to us after they got the momentum, rather than the opposite that we were doing starting the game,” Newton said. “We were running the football extremely well, keeping them off balance, and then all of a sudden, after the safety, it was good riddance. That’s a great football team. Built very solid from the back end as well as the front seven.”
Offense found rhythm
The offense looked completely lost in the first half, when it produced just 34 yards. But things changed as soon as the team took the field in the second half.
Sam Bradford led the team on a 10-play, 79-yard scoring drive that put the Vikings in the lead for good at 16-10. On that drive Bradford went 6-for-6 for 54 yards and threw a great 15-yard touchdown pass to Kyle Rudolph.
That set the tone for the rest of the game. Bradford, who was 4-for-11 for 26 yards in the first half, completed 14 of 17 passes for 145 yards in the second half.
“Offensively we didn’t do much in the first half,” Zimmer said. “It was disappointing, but the second half we put that drive together which we needed extremely bad because the defense I felt like was on the field so much in the first half. That was big for us. Getting some points there to open up the lead made it easier for us to rush the quarterbacks.”
“I think in the first half we just never really found a rhythm,” he said after the game. “Obviously when you’re not converting third downs it’s hard to get in a rhythm. I have to do better on third down of extending drives, keeping us going, trying to get us in a rhythm early. It was one of those things where it was really a tale of two halves. You look at the second half and we were able to come out and kind of get in that rhythm. Once we clicked and found that rhythm it was good for the rest of the day.”
There were a number of stars in the game, with Rudolph catching seven passes for 70 yards, Trae Waynes making his second interception in two games and Marcus Sherels playing great pass defense on top of his punt return.
But to put it simply it was one of the most impressive defensive performances in the Vikings’ long history.
Sid Hartman can be heard weekdays on 830-AM at 6:40, 7:40 and 8:40 a.m. and on Sundays at 9:30 a.m. firstname.lastname@example.org