The Vikings are indeed mortal. Their eight-game winning streak has come to an end at the hands of the Carolina Panthers, who forced uncharacteristic mistakes from the Vikings and made several big plays of their own to take down one of the hottest teams in the NFL by a count of 31-24.
Here are five takeaways from the Vikings loss to Carolina on Sunday.
1. Furious 4th quarter charge was impressive, but wasn't quite enough
With 7:04 to play in the 4th quarter, the Vikings offense took the field trailing 24-13. They were minus-three in turnover margin, had allowed four sacks, missed a field goal and were down 60% of their starting offensive line. But Mike Zimmer's team still found a way to bite, scratch and claw their way back into the game. By the 3:11 mark, the Vikings had tied the game. Case Keenum hit Adam Thielen for a 52-yard touchdown and tight end Blake Bell secured the two-point conversion on a pass from Keenum to pull the Vikings to within three. On the ensuing Panthers 3rd down, Andrew Sendejo intercepted a Cam Newton pass and returned it to the Panthers 6. The Vikings couldn't punch it in for a touchdown from there, but Kai Forbath split the uprights from 27 yards to knot the game at 24. It was a remarkable demonstration of grit and toughness on the part of the Vikings, but Carolina had one more big play left, and it came via a Cam Newton 62-yard run to the Minnesota 8. Three plays later, Jonathan Stewart scored his third touchdown of the day, and that would be enough to end the Vikings comeback.
2. It's not time to panic
The Vikings had won eight consecutive games entering Week 13. It had been more than two months since the team and its fans have experienced the bitter taste of defeat. It's an unusual feeling, and that's a good thing. The Vikings did lose while other contending NFC rivals won, but it's not time to panic. The Vikings are still one win away from clinching the NFC North and every goal they set out to attain from the very beginning is still attainable. The main concern going forward should be the health of players who are banged up and then finding a way to correct errors in time to put forth a good effort against the Cincinnati Bengals next week at U.S. Bank Stadium. Yes, it's on to Cincinnati.
3. Slow start, late mistake marred otherwise solid defensive effort
The Vikings allowed touchdown drives of 69 and 89 yards to open the game, but then settled down to hold Carolina to nine, six 14 yards on the next three drives. Carolina struck again to open the second half, but then was held to drives of eight, two, 15, eight and five yards on the next five series. To that point, Christian McCaffrey was held to 48 yards on 10 touches and Newton had only eight yards on 10 carries. Newton made the game's decisive play on the second-to-last Panthers series, though, taking the snap on 2nd and 5 from the Carolina 30 and finding a crease to spring 62 yards to the Minnesota 8. That late mistake combined with the Panthers first two drives of the game constituted the Vikings gravest miscues on defense, but they were enough to get Carolina over the hump and into the winner's circle.
View game action images as the Vikings take on the Carolina Panthers at Bank of America Field Sunday.
4. Uncharacteristic mistakes held down Vikings offense
Pass protection, red zone scoring efficiency and big-plays from wide receivers have defined much of the Vikings success on offense this season. The Vikings didn't perform to standard in those areas on Sunday and it hampered the offense's production. Keenum was sacked six times, the Vikings were one of four (25%) in the red zone and zero for two (0%) in goal-to-go situations and dropped passes took two touchdowns away and resulted in an Eagles interception. These mistakes were both uncharacteristic and too much for the offensive to overcome against a stout Panthers defense.
5. Injuries bear monitoring after physical contest in Carolina
Starting center Pat Elflein and starting right tackle Mike Remmers were both inactive, while starting left tackle Riley Reiff left the game and did not return with a leg injury. Danielle Hunter, Emmanuel Lamur, Thielen and tight end Kyle Rudolph were also among those who were banged up during the game. Injuries are a part of the game for every team every week, but after what was a physical contest between two tough teams, injuries will be something worth monitoring in the days ahead for the Vikings.* *