Adrian Peterson (Dennis Wierzbicki/US Presswire)
Adrian Peterson was getting stuffed in the first half, but he stuck with it in the running game. However, it was the passing game where he really came alive.
After being held down for much of the game, Vikings running back Adrian Peterson finished with 21 carries for 86 yards and a touchdown – rushing 13 times for 72 yards and a score in the second half.
Peterson also set a career high with 76 receiving yards, breaking his previous personal best of 73 – in his only previous start against the Panthers in 2009.
“That was unbelievable. That was his biggest receiving game his whole career,” quarterback Christian Ponder said. “They kept dropping deep and leaving him open and we kept taking it. When it was a two-play drive, both were to him. … I’ll take that all day.”
Vikings coach Leslie Frazier credited Ponder’s ability to throw it deep to help loosen up the defense and allow Peterson’s big day receiving.
“Five catches for 76 yards. That’s huge. And part of that is Christian begin able to make some plays in the passing game (downfield),” Frazier said. “It forces people to loosen up a little bit. He’s smart enough (to know), OK, I can’t throw over the top of your defense, I’ll check it down to a guy, who in the open field is tough to bring down.”
Peterson also scored his first receiving touchdown in almost a year. His last receiving touchdown was Nov. 7, 2010 against Arizona. Prior to that? His only other career receiving touchdown came against Atlanta at the Metrodome in his NFL debut.
With his 86 rushing yards Sunday, Peterson heads into the bye week at the midway point of the season with 168 rushes for 798 yards – an average of 21 carries and 100 yards a game.
Backup running back Toby Gerhart didn’t see a lot of duty but was critical in the Vikings’ game-tying drive in the third quarter, rushing four times for 27 yards on the drive.
GAME DAY NOTES
In the battle of rookie quarterbacks, Cam Newton did his part as well. He completed 22 of 35 passes for 290 yards and a career-best three touchdowns – posting a passer rating of 117.6.
Jared Allen extended his franchise-record streak games with a sack at 10. It couldn’t have come in a bigger spot. The Vikings were trailing 14-7 with little more than a minute left in the first half. Allen stripped Newton of the ball, Chad Greenway recovered and, two plays later, Adrian Peterson turned the turnover into seven points with a 19-yard catch and run to tie the game late in the first half.
Despite playing through visible pain with his injured ribs, Percy Harvin was a dual threat, rushing for a touchdown and catching four passes for 58 yards.
With his four catches, Harvin took over the team lead with 31 receptions. He surpassed Michael Jenkins, who caught two passes and has 29 on the season.
Ponder spread the ball around. Of his 18 completions, eight were to wide receivers, five were to running backs and five were to tight ends.
As expected, Steve Smith was the main Carolina receiver, catching seven passes for 100 yards and a touchdown. Through eight games this season, Smith now has 918 receiving yards.
The Panthers outgained the Vikings 405-361, as both teams ran 65 plays on offense.
The Vikings and Panthers both converted 50 percent of their third downs. The Vikings made good on seven of 14 chances, while the Panthers converted six of 12. However, the Panthers converted five of their first six until midway through the third quarter and just one of six the rest of the game. The Vikings converted just three of their first eight, but four of their final six chances.
The Vikings held the ball for 18:35 of the final 26:07 of the game.
The Vikings committed just four penalties Sunday.
Marcus Sherels provided the team with a spark with a 78-yard kickoff return to start the game. However, the Vikings weren’t able to take advantage, as Ryan Longwell missed a 45-yard field goal on a knuckleball that sailed left. Carolina’s Olindo Mare missed a 31-yard chip shot that would have sent the game to overtime on the same end of the field with a similar looking fluttering kick that also sailed wide left.
Chad Greenway had a big day. He had a fumble recovery and a game-high 13 tackles.
The Vikings got three sacks – one each from Allen, E.J. Henderson and Husain Abdullah.
The Vikings snapped a four-game road losing streak. The last time the Vikings won on the road was last December against Philadelphia.
It was a bizarre halftime reversal of roles for the Vikings. In the first half, Harvin was the team’s leading rusher with 16 yards and Peterson was the leading receiver with 61 yards.
In his first seven games, Peterson was averaging just seven yards a game as a receiver. Clearly he changed that number considerably Sunday.
Harvin and Carolina’s Captain Munnerlyn may be hearing from the NFL fine cops. In a bizarre play in the second quarter, Harvin and Munnerlyn got engaged in blocking and their battle went all the way to the Panthers bench, where punches were exchanged. Harvin was in no man’s land and it begged the question, “Why do NFL players throw head punches at a guy wearing a helmet?”
The Panthers put together four drives of nine plays or more. If they can continue that trend, they will be a team to keep an eye in the second half of the season.
Peterson didn’t get into positive yardage rushing until his seventh carry. In the first quarter, he has three rushes for minus-3 yards.
The game was a matchup of former teammates and fellow assistant coaches. Ron Rivera and Leslie Frazier were teammates with the Chicago Bears and both were members of Andy Reid’s coaching staff in Philadelphia.
John Holler has been writing about the Vikings for more than a decade for Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this story on our subscriber message board.