CHARLOTTE — As good as it was, Sunday night will only ultimately serve to frustrate the Carolina Panthers.
This was the kind of game they thought they were going to play more of in 2009, but it became the rare exception.
The Panthers hammered Minnesota 26-7 Sunday night, making a mockery of the 11-3 Vikings, and again raising questions about Brett Favre’s short-term future now that the weather’s gotten cold.
“This one was kind of bittersweet,” safety Chris Harris said. “We’ve been capable of this all year, we just hadn’t done it.”
The Panthers held Brett Favre to 224 passing yards and keeping him from making that one signature play. Afterward, Favre was explaining how Minnesota Brad Childress wanted to pull him but he wouldn’t go along with it, creating an incredible tension for a team that walked in with a chance to play for home field advantage in the playoffs.
Instead, it was the Panthers claiming the night, getting pressure (four sacks) and creating turnovers (two more, giving them 13 the last four games).
“We did a good job with our rush,” defensive tackle Damione Lewis said. “Whether it was the a three-man rush or a four-man rush, guys were getting there.”
The offense finally arrived on the scene as well, with Matt Moore and Steve Smith connecting time and again.
Moore finished 21-of-33 for 299 yards and three touchdowns (123.2 rating), while Smith had nine catches for 157 yards and a score.
It was a far cry from the previous offensive drought, as the Panthers had scored 49 points in their previous four outings.
“We were definitely due,” tight end Jeff King said with a laugh.
It didn’t start out smoothly, as the Panthers trailed 7-6 at the half, before Moore found his groove, hitting Smith and other targets (such as tight end Gary Barnidge) with a degree of regularity he hadn’t.
“I think we kind of got it going as we went,” Panthers coach John Fox said. “Early on we were feeling our way. Coaches made good adjustments, players made some good adjustments.
“It was definitely some good chemistry there.”
The Panthers also did some unheard of things. The Vikings hadn’t allowed a 100-yard rusher in 36 straight games, and seemed to be able to ease that up to 37 when DeAngelo Williams left with a left ankle sprain in the first quarter.
But backup Jonathan Stewart gashed them for 109 yards on 25 carries, the kind of pounding Minnesota hadn’t absorbed.
Stewart said he thought his makeshift offensive line — missing tackles Jordan Gross and Jeff Otah — got the better of the matchup.
“They were definitely wearing them down,” Stewart said of his blockers.