Blocked punts punish Panthers

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MINNEAPOLIS – Punter Brad Nortman was asked how he saw the two Vikings' punt blocks that were returned for touchdowns develop in front of him.

It was a hard question to answer.

"Honestly, I don't really see it until the very last second," Nortman said. "I'm just focused on catching the ball, holding it and kicking it. I don't even see them coming."

To execute a punt, Nortman trusts the protection and focuses on the ball. Unfortunately, the protection didn't hold up twice, leaving Nortman exposed.

"Both of them were individual breakdowns, very disappointing. Individuals got beat," head coach Ron Rivera said. "Not systematic, it has nothing to do with the protection or anything like that. Individuals got beat."

Adam Thielen took advantage of Carolina's miscommunication to block the first punt midway through the first quarter. He came through the middle, blocked the punt, picked up the ball and raced 30 yards for the touchdown.

"They timed their movement up pretty good," Rivera said. We tried to counter it with the calls, and at that point, we've got to make sure that we get those communications out and that we hear it."

Jasper Brinkley blocked the second punt by breaking through the interior of Carolina's protection in the second quarter. Everson Griffen returned it 43 yards to the end zone, giving Minnesota a 21-3 lead.

Linebacker Ben Jacobs took the blame for allowing Griffen to reach Nortman.

"I didn't get the necessary depth. That's what it comes down to," a distraught Jacobs said.

Before Sunday, the Panthers hadn't had a punt blocked since the 2012 season opener – a string of 196 consecutive punts and just two punts shy of the third longest streak in team history.

Carolina struggled to recover from two devastating blows that resulted from seemingly safe and routine plays.

"Without a doubt," Rivera said. "No matter what happens, you've got to believe they're coming 100 percent. That's on individuals and that's on us as coaches to make sure that these guys understand the significance and importance of every single individual play."

And the punting unit fully understood the significance of its mistakes.

"It sucks. The entire unit should have a real bad taste in our mouth," linebacker Jason Williams said. "That's something that we can't do. That was a huge momentum shift for them in the beginning of the game. We just have to be better."

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