NFL: Vikings 20, Panthers 10

Published 12:00 am Monday, September 22, 2008

By Dave Campbell
Associated Press
MINNEAPOLIS ó Gus Frerotte gave a wobbly passing attack some life with the kind of calm, poised performance his coach had in mind when he made the switch.
Frerotte couldn’t have helped save Minnesota’s season, however, without another productive performance by that relentless defense.
Antoine Winfield’s sack of Jake Delhomme and subsequent 19-yard fumble return for a touchdown right before halftime spurred the Vikings to a 20-10 victory over Carolina on Sunday to hand the Panthers their first defeat.
“You can’t afford, in this league, to go 0-3,” Winfield said. “We put ourselves in a tough situation, but I think we battled back today and made a statement.”
Replacing Tarvaris Jackson after a pair of woeful games by the offense, Frerotte completed 16 of 28 passes for 204 yards and a touchdown to Visanthe Shiancoe ó the first by the Vikings in more than seven quarters.
“I really don’t have any idea how they’re a 1-2 football team,” said Delhomme, who got standout wide receiver Steve Smith back but couldn’t do much against frequent pressure.
The Vikings’ rough start wasn’t because of the defense, though a couple of long plays allowed in the first two games were costly. It wasn’t due to a lack of a running threat, either. Adrian Peterson, whose injured hamstring recovered in time for him to gain 77 yards on 17 carries, led the league in rushing over the first two weeks.
Disappointed by Jackson’s tentativeness and the overall lack of success, coach Brad Childress pulled the plug on the project this week and called for the 37-year-old Frerotte ó who’s in his second stint with Minnesota, his seventh NFL team.
After some off-the-mark passes and one interception in the first half, Frerotte found his rhythm after Winfield’s big play and following the break marched the Vikings 80 yards in barely more than 2 minutes to take a 17-10 lead.
He fired a perfectly placed pass over Bernard Berrian’s shoulder for a 48-yard catch, Willie Mays style, and sent one up the seam to Shiancoe for a 34-yard score. Wearing a visor on the sideline, Jackson clapped and slapped hands with offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell after watching the Shiancoe hang on and then break a tackle. The tight end dropped a third-down throw in the end zone by Jackson in last week’s 18-15 loss to Indianapolis.
“It was a lot of fun,” Frerotte said.
Though the play-calling by Childress and Bevell was in a better groove than before and the receivers were more helpful than they were to Jackson, Frerotte was a clear upgrade from the first two games.
“He’s been doing it so long that he just has a great way about him, a great confidence about him,” Childress said. “He enjoys it. You can tell that he still has a burning desire to compete.”
Smith gave Delhomme the downfield threat he missed during his two-game suspension for punching teammate Ken Lucas, but his first three receptions and 60 yards all came in the first 17 minutes. Delhomme finished 17-for-29 for 191 yards, but he was never in rhythm.
The Vikings marked Smith well.
“We tried to jam him at the line and not let him get a clean release,” Winfield said. “He didn’t really catch any deep balls on us. That’s the key today.”