It wasn't always pretty, and in the short-term, it probably doesn't mean a whole heck of a lot to anything except the Minnesota Vikings' position in the 2011 NFL Draft.
But, man, was it fun to watch.
The Minnesota Vikings played what was probably their most complete game of the year en route to a 24-21 victory on the road over the Carolina Panthers on Sunday afternoon in Charlotte. The game was billed as a battle of rookie quarterbacks, and both of them played well in this one. Cam Newton completed 22-of-35 passes on the afternoon for 290 yards and the first three-touchdown performance of his career, while Christian Ponder went 18-for-28 for 236 yards and a score.
After Ponder's first start last week, we generally said two things about him. We said that he needed to be more accurate, and he also needed to be more careful with the football. He did both of those things on Sunday afternoon, as he moved his completion percentage from a little less than 41% in his debut to 64% today, and he. . .unlike Newton. . .didn't turn the ball over at all. Once again, it was Ponder's ability to convert on third downs that gave the Vikings life, extending drives in the second half and giving them the win.
The result of that? Going into the locker room at halftime, the Carolina Panthers had the time of possession advantage over the Vikings, 16:30 to 13:30. The Vikings won the second-half T.O.P. battle 18:35 to 11:25, including holding the ball for eleven minutes in the fourth quarter, and you could see it in the Carolina defense. Adrian Peterson, who had struggled early, started finding creases in the Panthers' defense. Toby Gerhart had a few impressive runs to get into the act. The pass rush, which sacked Ponder four times on the afternoon, wasn't quite as able to get to the rookie as the game wore on.
More importantly? In the fourth quarter, the Vikings' defense. . .still playing without their top two cornerbacks. . .allowed the Panthers only two first downs, and allowed them to convert only one out of four third down attempts. After Carolina opened the third quarter with a touchdown, they basically did nothing offensively until their final drive. The Vikings stayed on the field on offense, and got off the field on defense. In the National Football League, that's generally a pretty good formula for winning.
We got to see our young quarterback grow up a little more today, we saw the best running back in football overcome a rough start running the ball to put up 162 total yards (86 rushing, 76 receiving) and two touchdowns, we saw the NFL's best pass rusher impact the game in a major way again, extending his own team record by recording a sack for the tenth consecutive game and recovering a fumble on top of that.
Yes, the Vikings are still 2-6, and this is probably still a lost season. But our team won today, and it was pretty freaking great. Thanks to everyone that hung out in the Game Threads and watched it with us, and we'll have some more on this game as the week goes on.