Christian Ponder, Adrian Peterson and Percy Harvin all played big roles in the Vikings' 24-21 win over the Panthers in Charlotte, but you have to give the defense some mention, too. It created two big turnovers in the first half and then made enough big plays down the stretch to help the team earn the victory. The defense might be crippled by injuries, but it did what it could on Sunday.
The PFW Spin
The defense made a big early statement. How early? First-play-of-the-game early. E.J. Henderson came on a blitz and knocked the ball out of the strong hands of Panthers QB Cam Newton, which was recovered by Jared Allen. That turnover set up the Vikings' first touchdown after Ryan Longwell had missed a FG attempt the series before.
After the Vikings trailed 14-7, Harvin lost a fumble deep in Panthers territory and Newton and Co. drove near midfield, looking to make it a two-score lead before halftime. But Allen put a textbook pass-rush move on Panthers OLT Jordan Gross, beating him upfield on straight speed, and made a smart move going for the strip and not the kill shot. Not only is Newton too big to bring down with a one-arm tackle, but he also was cocking back the throw and leaving the ball exposed to Allen for sack No. 12½. Chad Greenway fell on the loose ball to give possession to the Vikings.
Although the defense didn't have a great first half, allowing 232 yards and 15 first downs, it made enough big plays to keep the team in it. In the second half, after the Panthers drove the field and took the lead again on their first drive of the third quarter, the Vikings once more tightened up. They forced three consecutive three-and-outs and pressured Newton well.
After Ponder directed the Vikings to a 24-21 lead on an impressive drive, it was Newton's chance. He rolled the Panthers down the field as the Vikings gave up big plays, including a 44-yard gain on 4th-and-15 — a play in which CB Cedric Griffin didn't sink enough and S Tyrell Johnson was playing far too deep.
But the "D" made some nice plays throughout the course of the game and held on at the end. Sure, a questionable holding call on Steve Smith on Newton's red-zone scramble and a shocking FG miss from 31 yards out by Olindo Mare helped as well.
Was it a perfect performance by Fred Pagac's defense? No. But it was a good effort by a banged-up secondary to hang in there despite the Panthers' impressive offensive talent. The Vikings' defensive line set the tone early and helped carry it through for most of the contest to victory.