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Vikings at Panthers: Five Game-Changing Plays

Looking back at the five most important plays from the Vikings’ wild loss to the Panthers.

NFL: Minnesota Vikings at Carolina Panthers
Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

Everything ends badly; otherwise it wouldn’t end.

In the 1998 cinematic classic Cocktail, Tom Cruise’s character Brian fires off this heart-rending phrase when everything suddenly goes awry. He might as well have been talking about the Minnesota Vikings’ eight-game winning streak.

After doing all the little things right and making plays when it mattered most for over two months, the Vikings couldn’t get out of their own way in a mistake-filled 31-24 loss at the hands of the Carolina Panthers. During the win streak, the Vikings had excelled in protecting the ball. On Sunday, they turned the ball over three times.

Pat Shurmur had turned the Minnesota offense into a well-oiled red zone machine that finished off drives with ruthless efficiency. Only one of four red zone trips on Sunday ended with a touchdown. In fact, seven of the Vikings’ 13 drives featured a snap inside Carolina’s 40; they netted a grand total of 16 points from the drives.

The Vikings had the lowest sack rate in the league heading into the game. Case Keenum was sacked six times as the Vikings finished without three of their starters on the offensive line.

The Vikings were great at stopping the run and preventing big plays for most of the season. Carolina ran for 216 yards including two runs of over 60 yards.

Simply put, the Vikings did everything they didn’t do since their last loss back on October 1, and they paid the price for it. Sunday felt like one of those games during a season on Madden franchise mode where the CPU isn’t going to let you win no matter what you try. (Bill Simmons has famously called it the “No-Effing-Way Game.”)

Personally, I’m not incredibly concerned about the team going forward. Nor are my fellow Daily Norseman writers. This was the final game in a grueling road gauntlet against a very good Panthers team. Just about everything that could have gone wrong did go wrong, and the Vikings still had an excellent chance to steal the victory at the end. Throughout a 16-game season, even the best teams usually have “one of those days.” The Vikings are finally home again this Sunday and should look much better against the lowly Cincinnati Bengals.

That said, I am worried about the health of the offensive linemen going forward, especially Riley Reiff. Without Reiff, Pat Elflein, and Mike Remmers in the lineup, it suddenly felt a lot like 2016 in all the worst ways. Here’s to hoping that the Vikings’ line can get healthy in time for the playoffs.

As I like to say when it comes to the Vikings, no need to panic—there will be plenty of time for that later. For now, it’s time for our weekly review of the five biggest plays that had the most impact on Sunday’s outcome.

(This one will be decidedly less fun than the past eight iterations.)

Play 1: Panthers ball, 3rd &1 at the Carolina 40. First quarter, 11:06 remaining. T.Moton reported in as eligible. J.Stewart right guard for 60 yards, TOUCHDOWN.

You know what isn’t a good way to start a game on the road against an 8-4 team? Throwing an interception on your first offensive drive and then allowing this on your first defensive drive.

The Panthers went with an extra offensive lineman—a tactic they employed with a good amount of success yesterday—and Jonathan Stewart was off to the races on the Panthers’ third play from scrimmage. Both Vikings safeties went to the other side of the formation, the linebackers seemed to mix up their gap assignments, and Stewart enjoyed a leisurely 60-yard stroll to the end zone.

But hey, the Vikings have already spotted a 7-0 lead to their opponents only to shut them down for the rest of the game a handful of times this season. No big deal, right?

Play 2: Vikings ball, 3rd & Goal at the Carolina 4. Second quarter, 0:20 remaining. (Shotgun) C.Keenum pass short right to A.Thielen for 4 yards, TOUCHDOWN. The Replay Official reviewed the pass completion ruling, and the play was REVERSED. (Shotgun) C.Keenum pass incomplete short right to A.Thielen.

Adam Thielen had a very uncharacteristic drop on first and goal that should have been an easy touchdown.

Two plays later, it looked like Thielen had made up for his mistake with a nice catch in the back corner of the end zone.

Secure the catch, land on your knee and elbow in the end zone. The ball never even comes close to touching the ground. That’s a catch. Easy enough, right?

Oh no. This is the NFL. In order for it to be called a catch, you must catch it, get no fewer than four limbs and five internal organs in bounds, seal the ball in Lucite, get your cleats notarized, and recite the alphabet backwards.

Thielen’s tiny bobble after he had already landed in the end zone with the ball cost him another touchdown and cost the Vikings the lead right before halftime. It was the correct call by the letter of the rule. It’s just unfortunate that the letter of the law is incredibly stupid.

But still, even after 30 minutes of bad bounces and poor play, the Vikings went into the locker room down by a single point. Everything’s fine!

Play 3: Vikings ball, 1st & 10 at the Minnesota 25. Third quarter, 8:42 remaining. (Shotgun) C.Keenum sacked at MIN 17 for -8 yards (M.Addison). FUMBLES (M.Addison), RECOVERED by CAR-M.Adams at MIN 35. M.Adams to MIN 31 for 4 yards. The Replay Official reviewed the fumble ruling, and the play was Upheld. The ruling on the field was confirmed.

After the Panthers marched down the field for a touchdown to open the second half, the Vikings had their chance to answer. Their answer was the strangest sack-fumble I have ever seen.

I don’t know about you, but I have never witnessed a fumble that spiraled forward for 16 yards. Once again, this might have been another case of “correct interpretation of a stupid rule.” It could be argued that Keenum’s hand was “empty” when his arm moved forward, which is technically a fumble. Even though, again, IT WAS A SPIRAL THAT WENT FORWARD SIXTEEN YARDS.

The Vikings defense held firm and Carolina was forced to settle for a Graham Gano field goal, but the Panthers were up by two scores midway through the third quarter. After this one, perhaps it really wasn’t the Vikings day after all.

Play 4: Vikings ball, 2nd & 7 at the Carolina 26. Fourth quarter, 8:54 remaining. (No Huddle, Shotgun) C.Keenum pass short right intended for S.Diggs INTERCEPTED by J.Bradberry at CAR 25. J.Bradberry to CAR 28 for 3 yards (S.Diggs).

Even after all the odd plays that didn’t go in Minnesota’s favor, they were still hanging around in the fourth quarter. With under ten minutes into the game, they were moving the ball well and getting close to making it a one-score game.

Or not.

Keenum air mailed a quick throw to the flat, which Stefon Diggs couldn’t bring in, and Daryl Worley pounced on the interception.

Sigh. Drive over, game over. Right?

To quote the late great Billy Mays: BUT WAIT THERE’S MORE!

Play 5: Panthers ball, 2nd & 5 at the Carolina 30. Fourth quarter, 2:33 remaining. (Shotgun) C.Newton up the middle to MIN 8 for 62 yards (T.Waynes).

Even after all of that, the game was tied with under three minutes remaining! The Vikings scored on their next drive following the Worley interception and Andrew Sendejo picked off a poor pass from Cam Newton to set up the game-tying field goal.

In my preview for this game, I explained how there had been a lot of “Good Cam” and “Bad Cam” in 2017. The interception was definitely “Bad Cam.” But unfortunately for the Vikings, “Good Cam” showed up in a big way at the end.

You could make a coffee table book of iconic quarterback runs against the Vikings over the years. Steve Young, Michael Vick, Robert Griffin III, and now this. If you ignore the pretty obvious hold Matt Kalil had on Anthony Barr, this was simply an incredible play by an incredible player. Three plays later, Stewart barely broke the plane for his third touchdown of the day, and that was it. Despite overcoming a bevy of mistakes and taking the Panthers to the wire on the road, the Vikings ultimately came up short.

With a game this wild, there were a handful of plays that had to end up on the cutting room floor. For instance, the play Riley Reiff was injured, the facemask penalties that kept an early Carolina scoring drive alive, and the Sendejo interception were all huge. But we must keep our integrity and maintain the completely arbitrary number I came up with at the beginning of the season. As always, we welcome your input on which of these plays had the most impact in the poll below. If you think we missed a few others that should have been included, please add them in the comments.


What was the most important play of the Vikings' loss to the Panthers?

This poll is closed

  • 4%
    Stewart’s first TD
    (39 votes)
  • 23%
    Thielen’s reversed TD
    (189 votes)
  • 13%
    Keenum’s forward fumble
    (112 votes)
  • 6%
    Bradberry’s interception
    (52 votes)
  • 48%
    Cam’s run
    (389 votes)
  • 2%
    Other (comment below)
    (21 votes)
802 votes total Vote Now