Case Keenum is "disappointed but not despaired" after a 31-24 loss at Carolina that wrapped up a stretch of three consecutive road games.
Keenum described Sunday's contest as a back-and-forth battle between "two good football teams" in playoff contention.
"They're a good football team. They're in a race to win their division just like we are," Keenum said of the Panthers, who improved to 9-4. "We knew it wasn't going to be handed to us. They fought, we fought, and it came down to a couple of plays here and there."
Three turnovers in various scenarios proved especially costly for Minnesota, but the Vikings never quit fighting.
Keenum threw an interception, just his sixth of the season, during the first series of the game. From his own 32-yard line, Keenum targeted Adam Thielen on second-and-14, but the pass instead was snagged by cornerback Daryl Worley at the Panthers 31.
"[I] was trying to make a shot, trying to make a play," Keenum said. "I didn't get as much on that one as I wanted to, and it got caught up a little bit. He made a great play.
"I've got to have enough room to make that throw if I'm going to try to throw it that far down the field," Keenum later added. "I'll go look at it and decide what I could have done in that situation to make a better play, whether it's moving in the pocket and throwing it or moving in the pocket and checking it down."
Carolina capitalized on the turnover, and on just the third play of the drive, Jonathan Stewart ran 60 yards for a touchdown and early Panthers lead.
Keenum didn't get rattled, however.
Minnesota's offense answered right back, driving 75 yards in nine plays, and Keenum found Kyle Rudolph for a touchdown to even the score.
Unfortunately for the Vikings, a handful of miscues that Head Coach Mike Zimmer called "unlike us" enabled Carolina to regain and keep control of the lead.
"I think we had quite a few explosive plays today, [but] we had an opportunity for more," Rudolph said. "I dropped a pass that would have been an explosive play. The opportunities were there, we just have to make the plays."
Thielen also took ownership for errors, including a slightly bobbled ball in the end zone that was initially ruled a touchdown but then overturned and called an incomplete pass. Instead of a go-ahead score, the Vikings were forced to settle for a field goal before the half.
"We've got to come out, as an offense, better to start the game. I put a lot of that on me. If I make a couple plays there at the end of the half, it's a totally different game," Thielen said. "As a leader, as a guy who wants those really bad, those are plays you've got to make. It would have changed the whole game. We put a lot on our shoulders as competitors and receivers, so I have to play better to help us win games."
In addition to dropped passes by a few of his targets, Keenum also was credited with another two turnovers.
Midway through the third quarter, Panthers defensive end Mario Addison sacked Keenum and got a hand on the ball just as the quarterback went to throw it, causing a fumble that was recovered by Carolina.
"I tried to look down field a little too long, took one extra hitch, and these rushers are too good. They've got some great rushers at defensive end," Keenum said.
A second interception occurred late in the game, when Keenum aimed at Stefon Diggs from the Panthers 26. The ball bounced out of Diggs' fingertips and popped into the air, where Diggs and cornerback James Bradbury wrestled for it.
Bradbury came down with the pick and left the Vikings scoreless on the drive.
Keenum evaded pressure a number of times to extend drives but also was sacked six times for a combined loss of 24 yards.
The Vikings were without starting center Pat Elflein, and starting left tackle Riley Reiff left partway through the game with an ankle injury, but Keenum didn't place any blame on the offensive line.
"They're a great defense, a great front," Keenum said. "I think every sack, every play has a story to tell. As a quarterback, I take a lot of pride in, you know, a lot of sacks are on me, so we got out of a few and made some big plays, and they got to the quarterback a few times."
Keenum's biggest play turned out to be a throw over the middle to Thielen, who hauled it in near the Panthers 35 and broke a tackle, turning the catch into a 52-yard touchdown late in the fourth quarter. Despite the late-game rally during which the Vikings closed an 11-point deficit to tie the game, Minnesota was unable to come away with the win.
"Depending how you look at it, it's a positive that we fought and got back in the game," Keenum said. "As a quarterback, I want to be in that position with the ball in my hand."
Keenum finished the game 27-of-44 passing for 280 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions for a passer rating of 75.9. He also once again demonstrated a tenacious ability to extend plays with his legs, scrambling five times for 40 yards and ending up as Minnesota's second-leading rusher behind Jerick McKinnon.
The Vikings sit at 10-3 after the loss and remain at the top of the NFC North. They will now return to U.S. Bank Stadium for the first time in nearly a month, as they are scheduled to host the Bengals next Sunday.
"I'm ready to start another win streak," Keenum said. "I'm disappointed in today, but I'm not despaired, and I think this locker room is ready to start another one."