Cam Newton threw three touchdown passes and ran for another score, and the Panthers romped past Peterson and the Minnesota Vikings 35-10 on Sunday.
Peterson finished with 62 yards on 10 carries and 21 yards on three receptions, but the Vikings (1-4) trailed the whole game and didn’t have much use after halftime for Peterson. The NFL MVP learned on Friday a 2-year-old son of his died in South Dakota of injuries from alleged abuse.
“It’s tough. It’s a crazy situation,” Peterson said. “Anytime you lose a child, no matter the circumstances, it hurts. I can’t describe it. But I’ve got a good supporting cast surrounding me.”
Matt Cassel threw two interceptions, both to Mike Mitchell, and the Panthers (2-3) responded each time with a touchdown.
Whether the team was distracted by the tragedy or not, the Vikings were thoroughly embarrassed on both sides of the ball by a team that had 11 penalties, seven sacks allowed and only six points in defeat the week before.
Newton perhaps was at his best since he was a rookie two years ago, finishing with 242 yards on 20 for 26 and with 30 yards on nine rushes. He threw for scores to Steve Smith and Mike Tolbert in the first half to cap long, commanding drives, and found Brandon LaFell for a 79-yard touchdown to start the third quarter. Tolbert scored on a short run in the fourth.
DeAngelo Williams had 64 yards on 17 rushes, and the Panthers finally put together a complete performance after leading at halftime in every game, but stumbling through several stretches of ineffective offense.
Peterson said he never had second thoughts about playing and declined to talk specifically about the relationship he had with his son.
“I just prayed and asked God to give me the strength to get through the game and remain focused and, for the most part, I did,” Peterson said. “It’s a terrible way to lose, but we can learn from this and make some corrections.”
With Josh Freeman watching on the sideline, Cassel kept the job over Christian Ponder, but struggled this time. Cassel went 32 for 44 for 241 yards and a late scoring pass to Kyle Rudolph.
Ponder’s biggest problem was turnovers, so when Cassel threw for 248 yards and two touchdowns without a giveaway last game while Ponder sat out because of a broken rib, a permanent change appeared inevitable. After three early completions for first downs, Cassel was hit as he threw and sailed a pass over the head of Greg Jennings right to Mitchell for an easy interception.
Then the Panthers went the other way in 15 plays for a touchdown, aided by a dropped pick-off attempt by Jamarca Sanford and a third-down holding penalty by Chris Cook that wiped out a sack. Newton and the Panthers drained 9½ minutes off the clock on that drive, converting two fourth downs, including the 2-yard toss to Smith.
Newton then used a shovel pass to feed fullback Tolbert, who barged through the middle of Minnesota’s defense for a 10-yard touchdown and a 14-0 lead. The Vikings lost linebacker Desmond Bishop on that drive to a right knee injury, and he didn’t return.
Any hope the Vikings had of a comeback crumbled in the opening minute of the second half. LaFell was wide open as he sprinted untouched along the sideline in an apparent coverage mix-up.
Newton found the end zone again on the next drive, a 9-yard scramble after eluding the rush.