Other than the warm bus ride from TCF Bank Stadium back to the airport, Cam Newton had nothing to excessively celebrate the last time he faced the Vikings.
The morning of Nov. 30, 2014, the Panthers quarterback and his teammates had lost five straight when they stepped into 12-degree weather for the seventh-coldest game in Vikings history. Their bodies stayed for the game, but their minds flew south quickly as the Vikings returned two blocked punts for touchdowns during a 31-13 beatdown.
That game came to mind around 1 a.m. Monday while channel surfing between Chris Berman yelling “Whoop!” and Deion Sanders reminding a child of the ’70s that remote control is man’s greatest invention. Somewhere in all that noise, someone tossed a stat up on the screen that turned this head.
That’s how many points the Panthers are averaging in their past seven games at Bank of America Stadium. The forecast for Sunday’s game against the Vikings calls for sunshine, 81 degrees and a Panthers offense that’s scoring a league-high 33 points a game after a 46-27 win over the 49ers at home.
“Yeah, it’s a headache,” Vikings coach Mike Zimmer said of preparing for Carolina’s offense. “They are very, very talented. They’ve got huge receivers. They’ve got, obviously, a quarterback who can really run. They run a lot of misdirection things. They run a lot of the option stuff, the nakeds, and they’ve got quarterback draws, quarterback runs.
“The tight end is a really good — more than one — but especially [Greg] Olson. The running backs are good. … They have a ton of weapons. It’s not a surprise that they’re scoring 43 or 46 or whatever they scored.”
That’s 46 points. And it was done while turning the ball over four times. Zimmer was asked if he could recall getting four takeaways and still giving up 46 points.
“I don’t know,” the defensive mind said. “I try not to think about the [opponent] scoring 46.”
Maybe Zimmer and the Vikings are to blame for the Panthers’ awakening. And what an awakening it has been since Nov. 30, 2014.
When the Panthers sprinted to the airport that evening, they were 3-8-1 with a six-game losing streak. Since then, they’ve warmed up a tad, going 22-3 while winning an NFC title and earning MVP honors for Newton and NFL Coach of the Year for Ron Rivera.
If you throw out Super Bowls and season openers against Von Miller, the Panthers have only one loss since Nov. 30, 2014. And that one loss was 20-13 at Atlanta two weeks after the Panthers beat the Falcons 38-0 at Bank of America Stadium.
Speaking of that stadium, the Panthers haven’t lost there since their loss at TCF Bank Stadium. That’s a 14-game home winning streak, including playoff games.
They’ve scored at least 37 points in seven straight games. And the last time they didn’t reach 24 points at home was 13 games ago when they probably were disinterested in a Browns team they beat with 17 points.
Last Sunday, some Panthers players seemed downright giddy about scoring nearly 50 points while turning the ball over four times.
“That could have been 60, maybe 70-something points on the board,” receiver Kelvin Benjamin said.
For perspective, in this millennium, only two teams have topped 60 points. The Saints beat the Colts 62-7 in 2011. And the Jaguars ended Jimmy Johnson’s coaching career with a 62-7 beating in a wild-card playoff game against Miami on Jan. 15, 2000.
The Vikings, meanwhile, enter the game with the league’s fifth-ranked scoring defense. They’re giving up 15 points a game and held Aaron Rodgers and the Packers to 14 on Sunday night. Rodgers’ 70.7 passer rating was his lowest in 18 games against the Vikings.
“We have to do kind of similar to [Newton] as we did to Rodgers,” Vikings defensive end Brian Robison said. “Keep him in the pocket and not let him run around and scramble a lot. Get around his feet and make him antsy.
“When you got a guy like that, you have to get some hits on him and make him antsy. If he gets running downhill, obviously he can do some damage.”
The Vikings have faced two mobile quarterbacks in Marcus Mariota and Rodgers. But, as safety Harrison Smith noted, there is one big difference with the 6-5, 250-pound Newton.
“They’re obviously all mobile,” he said. “Cam’s also a giant.”
He’s also at home, where it will be 69 degrees warmer than the last time he played the Vikings.