MINNEAPOLIS -- 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 361/2 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.''
What the Panthers said
"Last week we didn't do a very good job helping him out. He threw great passes, we dropped 'em. It was a lack on the part of the wide receivers. We did a better job today." -- Panthers wide receiver Steve Smith on the job the receivers did Sunday.
"We went out and did everything we said we were going to do.'' -- Panthers center Ryan Kalil
What the Vikings said
"Those are mistakes that will kill you in football. It is something that we just have to learn from. Those are the plays I expect those guys to make, and I know they expect me to make them when they come my way.'' -- Vikings corner Chris Cook on the 79-yard catch-and-run third-quarter touchdown by Carolina receiver Brandon LaFell, which came after Josh Robinson let him go in coverage.
"It seems we come up with a new theory every week. But I don't know what to say. We are missing tackles, they're finding the gaps, and we have to make sure that we don't allow those gaps to open up." -- Vikings defensive end Brian Robison.
What we learned about the Panthers
1. When the receiving corps makes plays, the Panthers' offense can be pretty potent. After a number of drops the weed before, the Panthers receivers made plays all over the field Sunday.
2. The Panthers' defense continues to prove it's for real. Except for one 31-yard run when the game was already decided, the Panthers held the Vikings to 44 yards on 12 carries.
What we learned about the Vikings
1. The conundrum presented by the Vikings' offensive line continues. A unit that was so good last year returns intact and simply cannot execute consistently. Vikings backs had nowhere to run, and quarterback Matt Cassil had nowhere to hide.
2. It is time for the Josh Freeman era to begin. Freeman watched this game from the sidelines. But expect an announcement that he will be in the lineup next week against the Giants.