Things got off to a slow start on Sunday for the Vikings, but they didn't stop fighting.
"We go down 10-0, but we don't blink," linebacker Anthony Barr said. "That's just the makeup of this team. We got a great locker room, great group of guys, and I'm just proud of the team."
A pair of plays by the defense and special teams at the ends of the first and second quarters, respectively, swung the momentum in Minnesota's direction.
"They flipped the field on us, and we didn't respond," Panthers Head Coach Ron Rivera said.
More than 12 minutes into the game, the Vikings were down 10-0 and had been held to just nine net yards offensively when defensive end Danielle Hunter snagged Minnesota's first points of the day.
After a powerful 62-yard punt by Jeff Locke and smart reaction by Marcus Sherels to keep the ball from entering the end zone, Carolina lined up at its own 4-yard line. Hunter capitalized on the field position, broke through the Panthers line and wrapped up Newton for a sack and a safety, dropping him into the end zone.
"I think after Danielle got the safety, we kind of woke up," Barr said. "I think the first two drives we were sluggish for whatever reason, but once he got that sack, that really just kind of got us going. That was a huge play in the game, and we kind of just took off from there."
Chad Greenway said it was hard to gain an edge over the first couple of drives, especially playing in the Panthers environment and defending plays that Carolina had specifically scripted.
"You've got to try to calm the crowd down," Greenway said. "We didn't do that early; they got some points on us, but we were able to settle down. It kind of got us rolling after that safety."
Greenway has seen the other side of what can happen on the road when a team goes up by two scores, but the Vikings were able to adjust. Minnesota held its opponent scoreless in the third quarter for a third straight week.
"It's nice to identify what they're doing and to be able to stop it is huge," Greenway said. "There's been a lot of games where we've identified issues and just can't get it stopped. It's nice to be in those situations where we know, 'OK, they've got some points on it. Let's settle down, make a play and go.' "
The Vikings weren't the only ones to notice the shift. Panthers quarterback Cam Newton and his crew tried to keep their footing, but they were overcome.
"They were dictating to us after they got the momentum," Newton said of the Vikings following the game. "[We were] running the football extremely well, keeping them off balance, and then all of a sudden, you know, after the safety it was good riddance.
"That's a great football team," Newton added.
The defense began gaining steam after Hunter's sack, and it was Sherels who completed the momentum swing late in the second quarter.
Sherels fielded an Andy Lee punt at the Minnesota 46-yard line and dodged a few defenders before breaking loose and running it down the Vikings sideline to the end zone. The 54-yard play extended Minnesota's score cut the deficit to 10-8 just before halftime.
"We got the kick we wanted; the guys did a great job blocking for me," Sherels said. "I kind of hit the seam, and the next thing I knew, I was in the end zone.
"We still had a long ways to go," Sherels added. "But that was a big play, and it kind of swept the momentum in our favor. It was a big play, and we kept it up."
Shortly after Sherels' return for a touchdown, cornerback Trae Waynes intercepted Newton to halt a Carolina drive and wrap up the first half – during which Minnesota had only 34 net yards on offense and two first downs.
The Vikings took the field after halftime, however, and never looked back.
Over the next two quarters, Minnesota gained 173 yards and 11 first downs and scored 14 points.
In holding the Panthers scoreless for 50 minutes, the Vikings defense sacked Newton eight times –and totaled three interceptions.
"We did all the right things to give us a 'W,' " Everson Griffen said. "And the biggest thing is, we stayed poised. They had us, and we just kept on fighting back, fighting back. Marcus Sherels with the punt return to the house, everywhere – up and down the line, we did great things."
"It's unbelievable," Griffen added. "We're 3-0, and we got to keep it going."