One of the Vikings biggest strengths entering Sunday's game is an area they will need those most improvement on heading into next week.
Minnesota's defense entered the game second in the NFL by allowing just 77.7 yards per game on the ground and were tied for third in the NFL, giving up only 3.5 yards per carry.
But a pair of big plays against their run defense was a key reason why the Vikings saw their eight-game win streak snapped with a 31-24 road loss to the Panthers.
"We gave up 200 yards rushing … you know, those are unlike us," said Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer. "Credit Carolina."
Added Vikings cornerback Xavier Rhodes: "Our game plan was to stop the run, but they did good blocking up and creating holes for the running back to run and creating holes for Cam [Newton]. Just made plays. Their O-line made plays at the right time."
The final stats show the Vikings surrendered a season-high 216 yards on the ground. Carolina had 36 rushing attempts, averaging exactly 6.0 yards per carry.
The Panthers struck early when Jonathan Stewart burst through the right side of the line (when Carolina had extra offensive linemen in that formation), as the running back raced 60 yards for a score on the Panthers third offensive play of the game.
"They changed things a little bit," said Vikings safety Andrew Sendejo. "But I'll have to look at the film to see how he got through."
Added Zimmer: "That's part of what they do. We got caved down a little bit, and we didn't, we ended up having two guys outside, and we missed where they're supposed to fit."
Stewart's run was the longest rush allowed of the season for the Vikings, until the fourth quarter when Panthers quarterback Cam Newton set Carolina up for the win with a 62-yard scamper up the middle of the field.
"He ran the ball, did good. We've got to stop him when he have a chance to stop him," Rhodes said of Newman. "He did what he does to keep his team in the game. That's why he's a leader on his team. They needed plays and he made them.
"I guess it was a quarterback run. They made a few good blocks, and he saw a hole and ran through it," Rhodes added. "When I turned around, I was trying to contain him outside and hope I had some help inside."
Zimmer noted that a missed tackle aided Newton's lengthy romp.
Numerous Vikings defenders talked about the need for a better run defense over the season's final three games.
But aside from the pair of 60-plus-yard runs, Minnesota's defense was essentially on par with its current performance this season.
Aside from the monstrous gains, the Vikings gave up 94 yards on 34 carries, an average of 2.8 yards per attempt.
"It was unfortunate to give up a big run like that at the end of the game, a crucial point in the game," Sendejo said. "But we'll bounce back next week, and we'll be fine."