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Cam Newton, Panthers end trying week with collapse against Vikings

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- The Carolina Panthers' 22-10 loss Sunday to the Minnesota Vikings was filled with the kinds of mistakes, penalties and overall poor play that aren't characteristic of a team with hopes of returning to the Super Bowl.

It certainly wasn't an effort that brought hope to a city that has been in turmoil since Tuesday's shooting death of a black man by a black police officer.

"This game was not to save lives or change the world,'' tight end Greg Olsen said after seeing Carolina's NFL-best 14-game home winning streak come to an end. "We wanted our city to feel good today. That’s obvious. Maybe more so than a typical Sunday.''

This isn't to suggest an unusual and intense week filled with protests -- which turned violent on Wednesday night -- only a few blocks from Bank of America Stadium are an excuse for Carolina's play.

Carolina coach Ron Rivera made that perfectly clear.

"I don't think that's fair,'' he said. "What happened here was very tragic and what we were hoping to do was come out and play and put that aside for a while. We just didn't play very well.''

The Panthers actually started fast, jumping to a 10-0 lead with 5:20 left in the first quarter on a 3-yard touchdown run by quarterback Cam Newton.

But then the wheels fell off. Newton, who arrived for pregame warm-ups wearing a black T-shirt with a quote from Martin Luther King on the back -- "Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere" -- was sacked in the end zone for a safety.

Then he suffered an ankle injury that forced him to leave for one play. At that point, the NFL MVP had completed all six of his pass attempts. He completed only 15 of his next 29, with three interceptions.

"[We were] running the football extremely well, keeping them off balance, and then all of a sudden, you know, after the safety it was good riddance,'' Newton said.

It wasn't just Newton and the offense that collapsed. The Vikings returned a punt 54 yards for a touchdown to cut the lead to 10-8 at halftime despite being outgained 205 yards to 34.

Then the wheels really fell off. The pressure the Panthers were getting on Sam Bradford in the first half disappeared, and the quarterback making only his second start for the Vikings began picking the defense part.

Newton seemingly spent most of the second half throwing off his back foot or on the ground. He was sacked five times after being sacked three times in the first half. An offense that averaged more than 40 points in the last seven home games -- one so explosive a week ago against the San Francisco 49ers that wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin said it could have put up 60 were it not for mistakes -- was a shell of itself.

Benjamin, who had a team-best 13 catches for 199 yards entering Sunday, didn't have a catch. He he had more penalties (2) than he did targets (1), with a block in the back on the second costing Carolina a 56-yard touchdown by Fozzy Whittaker that would have made it 17-2 early in the second quarter.

The Panthers finished with 10 penalties for 65 yards.

“It’s hard to play offense that way,'' Olsen said. "That was kind of the story of our day.’’

Now the Carolina team that went 15-1 during the regular season a year ago is 1-2. This isn't totally unusual. Three of the five teams to win at least 15 games since 1990 have started the next season 1-2.

But a game that was billed an "extraordinary event" prior to kickoff because of everything the city has been through in the past week turned into a collapse for the Panthers.

"We can't turn the ball over. We can't miss opportunities. We can't have penalties that take away opportunities,'' Rivera said. "That's really what it comes down to more than anything else. We shot ourselves in the foot.''