CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Of all the crucibles in which the Minnesota Vikings could have tested the viability of their offense with no Adrian Peterson and a new left tackle, they couldn't have found one much tougher than Bank of America Stadium on Sunday. The Carolina Panthers' front four battered Sam Bradford in the first half and ushered the Vikings' offense from the field so quickly that an exhausted defense departed the 90-degree weather at halftime begging for a break.
"We were sucking wind pretty good," head coach Mike Zimmer said of a first half in which the Vikings' defense was on the field for more than 20 minutes. "I basically mentioned, in a nice way, to the offense that we needed to get some first downs, and they did."
A funny thing happened in the second half: As Bradford started throwing in rhythm, quickly distributing short passes at the top of his drop, the Panthers stopped getting to him. The Vikings engineered a touchdown and two field goals on their six second-half drives. And in the process, they found something that might work for them without Peterson.
The Vikings still need to be able to run the ball more consistently, and their offensive line remained in a tenuous state on Sunday when guard Alex Boone left with a hip injury at the end of a tumultuous first half. But Bradford, who has often been at his best on a diet of quick timing passes during his career, made the most of his opportunities in an efficient second half.
Bradford hit 14 of his 17 second-half passes, though just five of his attempts were longer than 10 yards, according to ESPN Stats & Information research. After the Panthers pressured him on 38.5 percent of his first-half dropbacks, they affected Bradford on only 11.8 percent of his dropbacks in the second half. The Vikings need a sustainable way of producing on offense with so many of their core players missing, and what they did Sunday might provide an option.
"It was one of those things where it was really a tale of two halves," Bradford said. "You look at the second half and we were able to come out and kind of get in that rhythm. Once we clicked and found that rhythm, it was good for the rest of the day."
Peterson's absence means there won't be as many crowded fronts -- and susceptible secondaries -- for Bradford to throw against, and the quarterback pointed out how much zone coverage the Panthers threw at the Vikings on Sunday. The countermove for the Vikings in Charlotte was an offense in the second half that spread things out and unloaded the ball quickly.
"We got to some of our quicker stuff, we got to empty [backfields] a few times," Bradford said. "As much zone coverage as they were playing, we felt like there was some air in there, if we could get some space and kind of spread them out. I think that's kind of what we did."
It's not going to resemble what Bradford was running with the Philadelphia Eagles when Vikings tight ends coach Pat Shurmur was his offensive coordinator, but what the quarterback did Sunday worked in a realm with no Peterson and an offensive line in flux.
As the Vikings keep adjusting to a shifting set of facts on offense, they now are closer to finding a solution.