The Carolina Panthers were celebrating inside the visiting locker room Sunday afternoon at Mall of America Field.
One loud cheer after another could be heard from behind the closed door. And then silence. Finally, someone stuck his head out. We need more game balls, he said, grabbing a few. The door closed, more cheers.
It was that kind of day for the Panthers. Two 1-3 teams met, each looking for a foothold on a future. The Panthers found it in a one-sided 35-10 victory over the Minnesota Vikings. The Vikings, meanwhile, saw their season hit a new low.
A Panthers offense that struggled mightily a week earlier against Arizona was a model of consistency Sunday. Quarterback Cam Newton completed 20 of 26 passes for 242 yards, touchdown passes to three different receivers, and no interceptions. He also ran for a score.
The Panthers held the ball for nearly 36-1/2 minutes, took the air out of the dome with two long, early drives and wound up scoring touchdowns on four of their first five possessions, not counting a kneel-down to end the first half.
"We set the tone early in this game," said Newton.
He was sacked seven times a week ago and threw three interceptions. On Sunday, with his receivers holding on to accurately thrown balls, Newton had no picks and was sacked just once. All week long the Panthers had talked about consistent play. Sunday they got it.
"I thought that was outstanding," Panthers coach Ron Rivera said. "Real pleased with what we did on the defensive side, too.''
For the Vikings, it was a different story.
With the recently signed Josh Freeman watching on the sidelines, quarterback Matt Cassel completed 32 of 44 passes for 241 yards. But his one touchdown pass came late, with the game already decided. And his two picks were crucial, especially the first one.
"We have to do a better job trying to sustain drives, convert on third downs, keep our defense off the field," Cassel said. "Do the things you have to do. We just have to score points."
Meanwhile, running back Adrian Peterson, playing days after the death of his young son, was held to 62 yards on 10 carries, with 31 of those coming on one run.
"I just prayed," he said. "I asked God to give me the strength to get through the game.''
The Vikings began the game driving from their 20-yard line to a first down at the Carolina 39. But there Cassel, under pressure, had his pass intended for Greg Jennings sail high, resulting in the first of two Mike Mitchell interceptions.
The Panthers then drove 62 yards in 15 plays to score, converting on two fourth downs on the way, including Newton's 2-yard scoring pass to Steve Smith on fourth-and-1.
That set the tone. Two possessions later, Newton drove the Panthers 82 yards in 14 plays to score again.
The Vikings never recovered. Their last chance to get back into the game came at the end of the half when, down 14-0, they drove to a first down at the Carolina 13. But, with the clock running down, the Vikings had to settle for a field goal. Then, three plays into the second half, Brandon LaFell's 79-yard catch-and-run for a Panthers touchdown sealed the victory.
"It's a tough one," Vikings coach Leslie Frazier said. "You're coming out of a bye and playing at home and you expect to play better. We didn't handle situations very well today. Poor job on my part getting our guys ready to play and play better. ... I didn't see our team coming in and playing as poorly as we did today."
NOTES: Sunday marked the first time brothers Ryan and Matt Kalil have been on opposite sidelines in the an organized game at any level. Ryan Kalil is Carolina's seventh-year center, a three-time Pro Bowlers. Matt Kalil is the Vikings' second-year left tackle who made the Pro Bowl in his rookie season. Their sister, Danielle, sang the national anthem. ... As expected, Freeman was inactive Sunday. Cassel started and Christian Ponder was the backup. Vikings cornerback Chris Cook (groin) and cornerback Josh Robinson (ankle) both returned to the starting lineup after missing two games due to injury. .. Long-snapper Cullen Loeffler appeared in his 144th game with the Vikings, tying team record for the position. ... Vikings linebacker Desmond Bishop injured a knee late in the first half and did not return.