MINNEAPOLIS -- It was a game between two 1-3 teams struggling for relevance early in the season.
The Panthers found it in a big way. The Vikings, meanwhile, saw their season continued its downward spiral.
In front of a crowd of 63,963 Vikings fans that went from raucous to silent to loudly booing, the Panthers dismantled a Minnesota team that, coming off a bye, looked completely unprepared.
The final: Carolina 35, Vikings 10.
Panthers quarterback Cam Newton completed 20 of 26 passes for 242 yards and TDs to three different receivers, including a 79-yard catch-and-run to Brandon LaFell early in the third quarter that gave Carolina a 21-3 lead. Newton also ran nine times for 30 yards and a score, leading an attack that held the ball for 36:27 and gained 367 yards.
Against a struggling Vikings defense that suffered the loss of linebacker Desmond Bishop (knee), cornerback Xavier Rhodes (ankle) and safety Harrison Smith (foot) during the game, the Panthers scored on slow, steady drives and on lightning-fast ones, executing pretty much anything they wanted to do. Carolina punted only once over the first three quarters while building a 28-3 lead.
With recently acquired Josh Freeman watching from the sidelines, Vikings quarterback Matt Cassel, under constant pressure, completed 32 of 44 passes for 241 yards and a score. But the score came late, after the game was decided, and his two interceptions were costly. Running back Adrian Peterson, playing just days after the death of his son, gained 62 yards on 10 carries. But he had just 31 rushing yards as his team fell behind by 25 points.
The Panthers set the tone early, shortly after the Vikings' first drive ended abruptly when Cassel's errant pass to Greg Jennings was picked off by safety Mike Mitchell and returned 24 yards to the Carolina 38.
Over the next 9:27, the Panthers moved slowly and steadily down the field to take a 7-0 lead in a 15-play drive helped along by Vikings safety Jamarca Sanford, who dropped an easy interception, and by cornerback Chris Cook, called for a holding on a third-down sack.
The Panthers converted twice on fourth down, the second a 2-yard pass from Newton to Steve Smith for the score.
Two possessions later, taking the ball at their own 18, the Panthers did it again, driving 82 yards in 14 plays to take a 14-0 lead on Newton's shovel pass to fullback Mike Tolbert, who broke five tackles on the 10-yard scoring play, after which Vikings lineman Letroy Guion managed to get flagged for taunting.
The Vikings responded with a 76-yard drove for a score. But it was a field goal instead of a touchdown, Blair Walsh's 22-yarder that made it 14-3 at the half.
At halftime the Panthers had out-gained the Vikings by a relatively small margin (163-137), but had held the ball for nearly 19 of 30 minutes.
The Panthers put it away in the third quarter. Three plays into the half's first possession, Newton hit LaFell for the big score. On the Panthers' next possession Newton ran seven yards on third and goal.
NOTES: Sunday marked the first time brothers Ryan and Matt Kalil have been on opposite sidelines in the an organized game at any level. Ryan Kalil is Carolina's seventh-year center, a three-time Pro Bowler. Matt Kalil is the Vikings' second-year left tackle who made the Pro Bowl in his rookie season. Their sister, Danielle, sang the national anthem. ... As expected, Freeman was inactive Sunday. Cassel started and Christian Ponder was the backup. Vikings cornerback Chris Cook (groin) and cornerback Josh Robinson (ankle) both returned to the starting lineup after missing two games due to injury. ... Long-snapper Cullen Loeffler appeared in his 144th game with the Vikings, tying team record for the position.