What It Means
The Panthers' season was in the balance.
After blowing an 11-point lead to the Vikings in the fourth quarter, Carolina's wildly inconsistent offense got the ball back at its 25-yard line with 3:07 to go. It sure helps that seven seasons into his career, the Panthers can still depend on Cam Newton's legs.
The quarterback kept a zone-read on second-and-five before rumbling 62 yards to the Minnesota 8. Three plays later, Jonathan Stewart's diving score put the Panthers back ahead in a game that had to have.
So seven days after the Panthers saw their four-game win streak snapped, they ended the Vikings' eight-game streak. That sets up what should be a wild sprint to the finish line in the NFC South.
With three weeks left, the top of the division looks like this:
Because New Orleans has the tiebreaker after sweeping Carolina, the Saints essentially have a one-game lead. But as the Panthers showed Sunday against the NFL's hottest team, this thing is far from decided.
A look at the upcoming schedules:
Saints: vs. Jets, vs. Falcons, at Buccaneers
Panthers: vs. Packers, vs. Buccaneers, at Falcons
Falcons: at Buccaneers, at Saints, vs Panthers
—Tight end Greg Olsen had a scare early in the second quarter when he limped off on the right foot he broke in Week 2. After trainers put extra padding his foot, Olsen returned the next drive. But he finished without a catch and was targeted only once.
—Center Ryan Kalil played every snap for the first time since Week 1.
—It took until Week 14, but Daryl Worley finally snagged Carolina's first interception by a cornerback this season on the Vikings' opening drive. James Bradberry then added a second in the fourth quarter. The corners were obviously inspired by this.
—The longest rush the Vikings had allowed this year went for 29 yards. Jonathan Stewart's longest rush this year went for 18 yards. So, of course, he broke off a 60-yard touchdown on the Panthers' opening drive, his longest since a 69-yarder at New Orleans in Week 14.
—It's been fun watching Julius Peppers and Mario Addison go back and forth for the team lead in sacks the past few weeks. It happened again when Peppers upped his total to 9.5 late in the second quarter. Addison then matched that a few minutes into the third with a strip-sack that set up a field goal. Peppers, though, was robbed of what should have been his second of the day when a bad spot gave a sack to defensive tackle Kyle Love. That could be overturned this week by the league office.
—The Panthers have to be thankful for the NFL's ridiculous catch rule for the second time in three games. Still, by the letter of the law, wideout Adam Thielen didn't maintain possession when he bobbled the ball while falling out of the end zone just late in the second quarter. That let the Panthers take a 14-13 lead in the half, a similar break to the one they got against the Jets when tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins had a touchdown taken away for the slightest of bobbles.
—Wideout Damiere Byrd came in with two career catches for 28 yards. Sunday he caught all five of his targets for 37 yards.