MINNEAPOLIS – As the final seconds ticked down, Cam Newton walked across the field to find Adrian Peterson and offered a warm embrace.
It was a moment of comfort for Peterson, who was playing two days after his 2-year-old son was killed in an alleged case of child abuse in South Dakota.
Newton also comforted some anxious Carolina Panthers fans on Sunday with a performance more fitting of the franchise quarterback everyone wants him to be.
Newton threw for 242 yards and three touchdowns and rushed for another to help the Panthers roll over the Minnesota Vikings 35-10 on Sunday.
The efficiency, consistency and big plays from the pocket were much needed for Newton, who was coming off a woeful performance against Arizona in which he threw three interceptions.
Newton said he wants to "be very thorough with my craft for a full four quarters of football and not just one half." If he can accomplish that, the Panthers (2-3) suddenly become much harder to deal with.
Peterson rushed for just 62 yards on 10 carries, his lowest output since Week 2 of last season. He rushed to a hospital in Sioux Falls, S.D., on Thursday when he learned that his son was badly injured. The mother's boyfriend is charged with aggravated battery and aggravated assault, and the boy died on Friday not long before Peterson vowed to play in the game.
"I just prayed and asked God to give me the strength just to get through the game, just play and focus," Peterson said. "And for the most part, I did. It was a terrible way to lose, but we can learn from this, make some corrections and get back on track."
Here are five things to take away from the Panthers' win over the Vikings (1-4):
PETERSON DIDN'T THINK TWICE: When Peterson spoke to reporters on Friday, he was resolute in his stance that he was going to play the game despite the death of his son. The football field has always been his shelter during difficult times, and Peterson said he never wavered about his decision to play. "I just look at things and I don't ask people to understand my mindset and how I think," he said. "Anything bad, I try to take good from it. That's the way I approach life in all situations. I never thought about not playing. It was all about just going out there and praying that I have the strength to get through and help my team. That was my focus."
RIVERA THE GAMBLER: Panthers coach Ron Rivera's roots are on the defensive side of the ball, and he freely admits that he is generally more of a conservative coach. But sitting at 1-3 and needing to give his offense a jolt, Rivera decided to go for it on fourth down twice on Carolina's opening drive of the game. It paid off when the 15-play drive culminated in a 2-yard touchdown from Newton to Steve Smith, and a boatload of confidence for the offense in general. "For him to trust us means a lot and it speaks volumes," Newton said. "For us, he is a defensive coach by nature, so he always has that conservative mentality. But I think that he is kind of breaking his mold to a degree, and giving the whole team confidence with him."
STINGY PANTHERS: Carolina's front seven is fast becoming one of the toughest in the league. The Panthers haven't allowed a 100-yard rusher in nine straight games. Thomas Davis had two sacks and Mike Mitchell had two interceptions and a sack of his own to lead the way. And stuffing Peterson may have been their biggest accomplishment yet. "You know we gave up one big run and if we don't give that up we might have had him under 50," Mitchell said of Peterson's 31-yard run. "He's the best running back in the league so he's going to get his but I thought we did a good job keeping him bottled up for most of the day."
LAFELL'S BIG PLAY: The Panthers were leading 14-3 in the third quarter when Brandon LaFell got behind Vikings cornerback Josh Robinson and hauled in a pass for a 79-yard touchdown. It was the start of 21 straight points for the Panthers that turned a sloppy game into a rout. LaFell had four catches for 107 yards.
VIKINGS' POROUS SECONDARY: The Vikings entered the game tied for 29th in the league in pass defense. The beleaguered secondary took a couple of hits that could prove costly on Sunday. Safety Harrison Smith, arguably the best defensive player on the team, went down with turf toe on his left foot in the third quarter. Rookie cornerback Xavier Rhodes also sprained his right ankle. Both will get MRI exams on Monday to determine the extent of the damage.
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