Vikings brought back to earth in 31-24 loss to Panthers

December 10, 2017

CHARLOTTE, N.C. The Vikings NFC North championship celebration will have to wait for now.

They fell 31-24 to the Carolina Panthers on Sunday afternoon at Bank of America Stadium, after a frantic comeback to tie the game was ultimately rendered moot by Cam Newtons 62-yard run to set up Jonathan Stewarts decisive touchdown.

The loss ended the Vikings eight-game win streak, and put their bid to clinch the NFC North on hold for a week, after the Detroit Lions kicked a late field goal to beat the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. It came on a frustrating afternoon that included Adam Thielen touchdown that was ruled an incomplete pass after a review, and another potentially concerning offensive line injury.

The Vikings began the day without two of their five starting offensive linemen, when Pat Elflein whod been questionable to play with a shoulder injury joined Mike Remmers (low back injury) among the teams inactives. Left tackle Riley Reiff limped off in the third quarter, before being carted to the locker room with an ankle injury.

That forced the Vikings to shuffle their offensive line again at the end of the third quarter, moving Rashod Hill from right to left tackle and putting Jeremiah Sirles at right tackle after hed started the day at left guard. Rookie Danny Isidora entered the game at left guard, meaning the Vikings had just one of their five regular starters right guard Joe Berger playing his normal spot.

Case Keenum completed 27 of his 44 passes behind the battered offensive line, ducking away from a Captain Munnerlyn sack on a corner blitz and finding space in the middle of the Panthers rush lanes to gain 43 yards on five scrambles. He finished the day with three turnovers, getting hit as he underthrew a deep ball that Daryl Worley intercepted in the first quarter.

On the Vikings first play of the third quarter, Mario Addison beat Riley Reiff with a speed rush and swatted the ball out of Keenums hand as he tried to throw downfield. The Panthers recovered the fumble as it shot forward, and reviews upheld the fumble call. With the Vikings down 24-13 in the fourth quarter, James Bradberry picked off a Keenum pass that Stefon Diggs deflected into the air.

But after a Vikings stop, Keenum found Adam Thielen for a 52-yard touchdown strike, hitting a two-point conversion to Blake Bell that pulled the Vikings within three. When Andrew Sendejo intercepted a pass that ricocheted off Christian McCaffreys hands, it set up Kai Forbaths game-tying 27-yard field goal.

For all the Vikings resilience, though, Newton was there to make the final play of the day.

He scooted through a hole off the left side of the Panthers line, eluding Snedejos tackle attempt for a 62-yard run that put the Panthers at the Vikings 8 with just over two minutes to play. Stewart who started the scoring with a 60-yard touchdown run off Keenums first interception jumped over the goal line for his third score of the day to put Carolina up for good.

Ben Goessling covers the Vikings for the Star Tribune. Twitter: @GoesslingStrib. E-mail: ben.goessling@startribune.com