Facing another game without several injured starters, the Panthers must regroup quickly when they visit the Minnesota Vikings on Sunday.
Smith sat out Carolina’s 20-6 home loss to Atlanta last Sunday, and while his presence was missed on offense, it was the defense that took a pounding.
Linebacker Dan Morgan suffered a concussion in the second quarter and the Panthers were never the same, allowing 252 rushing yards—the second-most in team history.
Smith did not travel with the team for this game while Morgan, who has a history of concussions, is out for this week and maybe longer.
“Nobody plays harder on the field than Dan,” tackle Jordan Gross said. “He plays with his heart on his sleeve and I know he’s got to be frustrated getting the little dings like he has.”
Drew Carter, who started in Smith’s place against Atlanta, had five catches for 62 yards, but the offense was ineffective.
Quarterback Jake Delhomme was sacked four times and the Panthers rushed for just 65 yards.
“We just didn’t get it done. We didn’t do well,” Delhomme said. “It does get frustrating out there, because you want to do so well. We have to play better, because it wasn’t good.”
The Panthers will have a revamped offensive line as left tackle Travelle Wharton is out for the season after tearing the ACL and MCL in his left knee against the Falcons.
“If that’s the case, (Gross) will be up to the challenge and he’ll do fine,” Delhomme said. “And one thing about Todd Fordham, he’ll know what to do on the right side. That won’t be an excuse.”
Adam Seward replaced Morgan at middle linebacker last Sunday and will likely start in his place this week.
The road for the Panthers doesn’t get any easier against the Vikings, who ran an efficient offense in a 19-16 season-opening win at Washington on Monday night.
Minnesota displayed the discipline new coach Brad Childress wanted to see after he accepted the job following four years as Philadelphia’s offensive coordinator.
“When things are different, they don’t understand them,” Childress said. “I think when they see some method to the madness, and particularly when you can put a winning product on the field—that’s why I mentioned that buy-in factor.”
The Vikings didn’t commit a turnover and Chester Taylor carried the ball 31 times for 88 yards and a touchdown. He became the first Minnesota back with 30 carries in a game since Robert Smith did it against Atlanta on Sept. 8, 1996.
Brad Johnson was 16-for-30 for 223 yards and a touchdown, finding seven different receivers and taking only one sack.
“You always want to throw it to the guy that is open,” Childress said. “I thought Brad did a good job of finding those guys. Any time you can spread it around, it’s a good thing. You can’t focus in and zero in on one person. He went through his progressions very well, and yeah, in a perfect world that’s what you do. You spread the football around to all those guys—running backs, tight ends, wide receivers.”
Ryan Longwell’s game-winning field goal with a minute remaining gave Minnesota its eighth win in 10 games dating to last season, but the club still has plenty to work on.
Troy Williamson had four catches for 77 yards and averaged 24.5 yards on kickoff returns, but had three drops, including one that appeared to be a sure touchdown.
The Vikings also committed nine penalties.
“I thought our guys played extremely hard,” Childress said. “I think on both sides of the football that we can play smarter. I think when you go out at halftime and the penalties are seven to one, with you with seven and them with one, you can play smarter.”
Minnesota and Carolina have split six all-time meetings with the Panthers winning the last three, including a 38-13 victory last season at home.
Smith set franchise records with 11 catches and 201 yards in that contest.