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Other Week 14 Game Recaps

Week 14 Game Recap: Minnesota Vikings 24, Carolina Panthers 31

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Minnesota Vikings

It was bound to happen eventually, the Vikings finally stumbled for only the third time this season after losing a back and forth affair with the Carolina Panthers. The biggest storylines on the day include two 60+ yard runs by the Panthers and a defense that was too tired to stop the Panthers in the fourth quarter after the offense had just tied it up. The defense was so tired because Case Keenum had 3 turnovers (2 INT and a fumble lost) and just could not keep the offense on the field for extended periods of time. Despite the body of work, Keenum has put together throughout the season, there are many people calling for Teddy Bridgewater after this week. The Vikings still have a commanding lead in the NFC North and take on the Bengals at home next week before closing the season with two divisional matchups against Green Bay and Chicago.

Carolina Panthers

Cam Newton and the passing attack really struggled to get anything going, even as the Vikings were daring the Panthers to throw outside the numbers. Often Minnesota would cheat its safeties up to within eight yards of the line of scrimmage, but Carolina was unable to capitalise. Newton's inaccuracy contributed to an offense that lacked in rhythm. The offensive line welcomed back Ryan Kalil at centre, who seemed to make a difference in the ground game, where Jonathan Stewart cashed in with three touchdowns. The connection between Newton and Devin Funchess continues to flourish, although things were made more difficult by the excellent coverage of Xavier Rhodes. Greg Olsen temporarily left the game to have his foot checked, but he came back and showed no ill effects; to say he looked dynamic would be a lie, but he looked comfortable in his second game back.

Minnesota Vikings

QB Case Keenum, 73 offensive snaps, Pass: 27 - 44 - 280 - 2 TD / 2 INT, Rush: 5 - 40 - 0
Despite being the key factor in a resurgent Vikings' offense that had to weather the losses of both Sam Bradford and Dalvin Cook, Keenum has had to answer questions all season about being replaced as the Vikings starter. For the most part, he had silenced critics with his solid play, but this week he stumbled against a stingy Carolina defense. He still managed to put up 24 points on the road, but 3 costly mistakes will have him fielding questions about his job security all week. Keenum did manage 280 yards passing and 2 touchdowns, but everyone is going to focus on the 2 interceptions and the fumble lost. Keenum was intercepted on the first drive of the game. Adam Thielen had beat his man down the sideline and Keenum simply underthrew him and the ball went right to the corner who had peeled off the route. The second interception was not Keenum's fault as the ball bounced off Stefon Digg's chest and into the covering corner's arms. The fumble came on a strip sack where Keenum held the ball in the pocket too long and simply had no chance against the pass rush. It looked as if he had started his arm forward, but the replay official confirmed it was a fumble recovered by Carolina. For all of the bad, Keenum did manage 2 touchdown passes. His first touchdown came on a beautiful pass up the seam to Kyle Rudolph. The big tight end appeared to be triple covered in the end zone, but Keenum was able to drop it right over the coverage and put it where only Rudolph could make a play on the ball. The second touchdown pass came to Adam Thielen on a skinny post right down the middle that he broke for 52 yards and into the end zone. Keenum should get the chance to take on the Bengals at home next week, but look for it to be a short leash after all of the mistakes today.

RB Latavius Murray, 32 offensive snaps, Rush: 9 - 14 - 0, Rec: 2 - 6 - 0 (2 targets)
Murray was given the start this week and was unable to do much of anything on the ground. Both Jerick McKinnon and Case Keenum had more rushing yards than Murray. Of the 14 yards that Murray managed on the ground, 11 came on one play, and the other 8 carries went almost nowhere. He also was unable to do anything with his 2 catches as he only managed 6 yards through the air and was tackled almost immediately every time he touched the ball. Murray had outplayed McKinnon, for the most part, this season, but this simply was not one of those games. Carolina clearly game planned to take Murray away and challenged Keenum to beat them through the air. Murray will get the chance to bounce back next week against a banged-up Cincinnati defense, before wrapping up the season against divisional opponents.

RB Jerick McKinnon, 42 offensive snaps, Rush: 7 - 46 - 0, Rec: 2 - 9 - 0 (3 targets)
The Vikings did not fare very well on the ground at all this week. With 100 total yards on the ground, 40 of which came from quarterback Case Keenum, but McKinnon and Murray had rough days. On the bright side, McKinnon did lead the team with 46 rushing yards, averaged 6.6 yards per carry, and even broke off a 17-yard scamper to lead all rushers. However, McKinnon has equally as rough a day through the air and only caught 2 of his 3 targets for 9 yards and was also tackled almost immediately, just like Murray. The Vikings offensive line was manhandled all game and both McKinnon and Murray suffered. McKinnon definitely had the better day, but that is not saying much as he only managed 6 more yards than a non-running quarterback. Look for a better showing next week at home against the Bengals.

WR Adam Thielen, 69 offensive snaps, Rec: 6 - 105 - 1 (13 targets)
Here is another reoccurring theme of the season. Thielen lead the team in targets with 13, lead the team in receiving yards with 105, had the longest play of the game for the Vikings with his 52-yard reception, and chipped in a touchdown for good measure. Thielen has been a surprise story all season, but his day actually could have been so much better if Keenum had been more accurate. On the first drive of the game, Thielen had a step on his man and Keenum underthrew him for an interception. There were 6 other occasions where the ball was thrown behind Thielen or right into coverage making it impossible for Thielen to make a play. The big 52-yard reception was more a by-product of a great route and breakaway speed by Thielen more than anything Keenum did. Thielen ran a skinny post, made a leaping catch across the middle, and then simply outran both his man and the safety to the pylon and the end zone. This was the big play the Vikings needed to get back into the game but unfortunately was not enough in the end. Thielen still ranks in the top 5 for receiving yards in the league and has 2 more opportunities to build on his break out campaign.

WR Stefon Diggs, 70 offensive snaps, Rec: 6 - 64 - 0 (10 targets)
This could have been a very big game for Diggs as well, but he only managed to catch 6 of his 10 targets and had the glaring mistake with his bobbled catch being intercepted deep in Carolina territory. Diggs has had some issues with drops this season and throughout his career, but the bobble that lead to the pick today was on an easy swing pass with no defender within 5 yards of him. Diggs managed to catch almost that exact same play and take it 22 yards for a first down later in the game after the corner tried to jump the route and missed the tackle. Diggs has yet to replicate the success he had before his groin injury, but still remains a big part of the Viking offense. Thielen and Diggs were considered one of the best WR duos after the first few games of the season, but Diggs has not held up his portion. It will be interesting to see how Diggs reacts if there is a change at quarterback before the end of the season.

TE Kyle Rudolph, 55 offensive snaps, Rec: 3 - 41 - 1 (5 targets)
Rudolph was third on the team with 5 targets this week but did not manage much outside of his touchdown catch in the first half. Keenum directed more than half of his targets to Thielen and Diggs and seemed to forget about Rudolph several times when the big tight end came open across the middle of the field. The touchdown play was a beautiful pass and catch in traffic as Rudolph worked his way up the seam and caught the ball just over the linebacker in coverage and before the safety could bear down and make a play. This same play also accounted for Rudolph's longest play of the game with the 18-yard reception. Rudolph continues to be an asset in the red zone but does not seem to be utilized as much in other parts of the field.

Carolina Panthers

QB Cam Newton, 64 offensive snaps, Pass: 13 - 25 - 137 - 1 TD / 1 INT, Rush: 11 - 70 - 0
An erratic display from Cam Newton contributed to an offensive performance that was bereft of any semblance of rhythm. The Vikings dared the Panthers to throw the ball outside the numbers all game long, often deploying their safeties comically close to the line of scrimmage. Newton took a few deep shots, but each time they were well covered. For the most part the pass protection gave Newton the platform to make throws; they simply weren't there, or he would fade back and invite pressure rather than stepping up in the pocket. He managed to connect on a beautiful back shoulder pass down the left sideline to Devin Funchess to set up a touchdown, but would follow that up with a scattershot heave downfield to nobody in particular. The rushing attack was doing its part, but the Panthers had several three-and-out drives in the second half as they were nursing a lead. Newton's lone touchdown pass came on a good improvisational play in the red zone. Detecting pressure, Newton faded back in the pocket, evaded a sack and tossed a laser to a wide open Funchess on the goal line. It was an ill-advised throw in the circumstances, but Newton did well to buy time and make a play. Newton tossed a late interception on what appeared to be a simple pass to Christian McCaffrey after leaving the football too high. The quarterback would make up for his error on the Panthers' final possession, sprinting 62 yards downfield after making a man miss with an incredible open field move. It wasn't a clean game from Newton, but he did enough.

RB Jonathan Stewart, 26 offensive snaps, Rush: 16 - 103 - 3 (1 targets)
There was a strong intent from the outset to run the football effectively on this cold December day in Charlotte, and Jonathan Stewart was happy to take on that role. A determined Stewart got into a rhythm early and seemed to be enjoying running behind an offensive line that played cohesively and blew open some big holes. Perhaps none was bigger than the massive gap between right guard and right tackle in the first quarter that resulted in a 60-yard touchdown scamper. The line folded the Vikings defensive front in a short yardage situation with excellent blocking, giving Stewart a clear lane to pay dirt. Stewart continued to see action in the red zone, with the Panthers intent on punching it in on the ground, perhaps not trusting their outside options to win against the Vikings' cornerbacks. Stewart added a second score off left guard in the red zone, showing phenomenal power and leg drive to bull through a tackler. He added a third touchdown to seal the game in the dying moments, diving over the top and breaking the plane just before the ball was jarred loose from his hands.

RB Christian McCaffrey, 43 offensive snaps, Rush: 8 - 35 - 0, Rec: 3 - 18 - 0 (4 targets)
It was an uncharacteristically quiet outing for Christian McCaffrey when compared to recent games, but he played his part as usual. An early pass into the flat saw him draw a facemask penalty to keep a drive alive. A beautiful cut saw him make safety Harrison Smith miss the tackle in the flat before turning it up the field for a first down. As a runner, he showed good patience against a disciplined Vikings front, taking what was given. In the final stages, a high Cam Newton pass caromed off McCaffrey's outstretched hands on a simple route over the middle, resulting in an interception. The blame rests more on the quarterback, but the ball made contact with the rookie's hands.

WR Damiere Byrd, 38 offensive snaps, Rec: 5 - 37 - 0 (5 targets)
A standout performance on a day of few notable ones in the Carolina passing attack, the returning Damiere Byrd made his presence felt. The quick-twitch speed merchant was able to separate from Minnesota's defensive backs on crossing patterns; if Cam Newton's passes had been better placed, he perhaps could have done more after the catch. In the closing stages Byrd ran an excellent pivot route on third down for a first down, catching the ball cleanly as a defensive back flew past his ear hole in a despairing attempt for the interception. A beautiful sideline grab outside his frame converted yet another third down on a day the Panthers needed every first down they could muster.

WR Devin Funchess, 45 offensive snaps, Rec: 3 - 59 - 1 (7 targets)
Devin Funchess continues to be the apple of Cam Newton's eye and the de facto number one receiving option in an uninspiring passing attack. The Vikings kept Funchess well marshalled for the majority of the game, although an early back shoulder pass left vaunted cornerback Xavier Rhodes grasping at air. The timing and precision of the pass gave Funchess every chance to make the play, and he did just that. Rhodes battled back and broke up consecutive targets to Funchess in the second quarter. Funchess found some joy in the second half on a dig route out of the slot, showing good technique and strong hands at the catch point. He did an excellent job to adjust on a Newton scramble drill, finding an open space to give his quarterback an easy, if ill-advised, pass for a touchdown. Newton continued firing passes in Funchess' direction, but often they were over his head and simply desperate attempts on third and long.

WR Kaelin Clay, 3 offensive snaps (1 targets)
Kaelin Clay's involvement was mainly as a punt returner, although Cam Newton targeted him once on a deep ball after a couple of Statue of Liberty-esque fakes in the backfield. Minnesota didn't fall for the window dressing, and the coverage was excellent, taking away the downfield option.

TE Greg Olsen, 59 offensive snaps (1 targets)
It was an uneventful game for Greg Olsen in the box score, as he was blanked by a disciplined Minnesota defense. The ineptitude of the passing game for long stretches played a role in his quiet afternoon as well, as the Panthers tried to play keep away in the latter stages. Olsen was forced to leave the game for treatment on his surgically repaired foot, but returned with no issues. His lone target came on a seam pass over the middle, but Cam Newton's wild pass was too high and gave Olsen no chance.