1. A Rudolph drop at worst time
The Panthers had just driven 89 yards to take a 14-7 lead. The crowd at Bank of America Stadium was getting more excited in the first minute of the second quarter of Sunday’s 31-24 Carolina victory. Vikings running back Mack Brown took the ensuing short kickoff and was stopped at the Vikings 18-yard line. But a Carolina pass interference penalty on the next snap gave the Vikings the ball at their 30. “We had the perfect play call” on the next snap, tight end Kyle Rudolph said. Rudolph was wide open up the left seam. The ball arrived perfectly. But Rudolph dropped it, leading to a punt three snaps later. “It was just a ball that hung up in the air on me,” Rudolph said. “It’s a catch I got to make. I’ve made 50 other ones like that this year.”
2. Murray shut down early, often
With 14 yards on nine carries (1.6), Latavius Murray had his worst game since taking over as the No. 1 running back for injured Dalvin Cook back in Week 5. The Vikings clearly had other plans for the big back early on. They opened with back-to-back handoffs to him. He went for 3 yards and then was dropped for a 4-yard loss. Two snaps later, Jerick McKinnon lost 4 yards on his first carry. One snap after that, Case Keenum underthrew a deep ball that was intercepted. “We need to learn from this and figure out ways to make more plays,” Murray said. “I didn’t necessarily think it would be tough [running]. We just have to play better as a whole, offensively. I think we had a chance to make plays, and we just didn’t.” Murray lost yardage on three of nine carries.
3. Diggs draws flag on Davis
On one of the latest flags you’ll ever see, Panthers linebacker Thomas Davis was penalized for pass interference against receiver Stefon Diggs on the first snap after Carolina went up 14-7. The flag was so late, it appeared to be on Diggs for screaming at the official. “No, I don’t get into officiating; they do a great job,” Diggs said. “I just saw him grab the flag and look like he was going to throw it. He kind of looked at [one official] and then [another official]. He was about to put it back. I was like, ‘Are you going to throw it? What are we doing?’ He waited for a while and then he finally threw it. I was confused because it was like I had to ask him, ‘Are you going to throw it?’ I never seen anybody grab his flag and take that long to throw it.”
4. Special teams good, mostly
Punter Ryan Quigley and gunner Jayron Kearse did their jobs late in the third quarter. Quigley dropped the perfect 37-yard punt inside the 3-yard line. Kearse downed it at the 2. The defense forced a three-and-out. Then Marcus Sherels did his job, following blockers for a 29-yard punt return to the Panthers 30. But the offense lost 6 yards, forcing Kai Forbath to attempt a 54-yarder with Carolina leading 24-13. Forbath’s long this year is 53. He hasn’t made one longer than that since a 57-yarder in 2015. He missed way left. But he also made kicks from 30, 22 and 27 yards to tie the score with 3:07 left. Every Vikings fan alive had to be thinking he just might miss from 27, the same distance Blair Walsh missed from in that wild-card loss to Seattle.
5. Keenum provides a chance
Suggestion: If Keenum continues to duck and make defenders miss with these eyes-in-the-back-of-his-head moves, let’s put him in a throwback No. 10 jersey for a week. Yes, he was sacked a season-high six times, but it could have been twice that if not for some moves that were downright Tarkentonesque. Keenum’s uncanny ability to escape kept the Vikings in the game. Case in point: Back-to-back scrambles early in the first quarter. On second-and-4, he ducked a defender and turned a sack into a 1-yard gain. Then he turned what should have been a three-and-out into a first down. Seven plays later, he hit Rudolph to tie the score 7-7. “I’m not really watching the rush,” he said. “I’m trying to feel it, and there’s just some open space when I step up.”