Can anyone figure the Carolina Panthers out?
A week after being drubbed 22-6 by the Arizona Cardinals, Ron Rivera's team marched into the Metrodome and pasted the Minnesota Vikings 35-10 to improve to 2-3 this season.
Cam Newton rebounded from a three-interception dud by turning in a four-touchdown gem against the fledgling Vikings. The third-year quarterback passed for 226 yards and three scores while running for 30 yards and another – an outing which earned him NFL.com's #BeastMode performer of the week honors.
Newton didn't do it all on his own, though.
Brandon LaFell caught four passes for 107 yards and a score, topping the century mark for just the second time in his career. Steve Smith gave the Panthers the early lead by finding the end zone on a two-yard pitch and catch from Newton on Carolina's opening possession.
Mike Tolbert scored twice – once through the air and once on the ground – in his best game of the season. DeAngelo Williams had a modest day, gaining 64 yards on 17 carries.
The Carolina defense – currently ranked third in the NFL – continued its string of solid performances against Leslie Frazier's Vikings, who struggled with Matt Cassel behind center.
It seems a different Panthers defender steps up each week. Safety Mike Mitchell shined on Sunday.
The fifth-year veteran filled out the stat sheet with six tackles, one sack and two interceptions. Linebacker Thomas Davis also had an excellent day, piling up eight tackles and two sacks.
Adrian Peterson, who suited up just two days after the tragic death of his son, was held to just 62 yards on 10 carries – both season lows.
Sunday marks the second time in three games the Panthers have completely dominated their opponent in all phases of the game. Sandwiched in between Week 3's 38-0 thumping of the New York Giants and Sunday's 38-10 victory is a deflating 22-6 loss to Arizona.
While winning any two NFL games by a 73-10 margin is impressive, the Giants and Vikings are a combined 1-10.
The Panthers have only proven they can beat bad teams when they play their best. Now they have to prove they can beat good teams when they don't play their best – and do so consistently.
Since Ron Rivera took over as head coach in 2011, Carolina's only winning streaks have come after the team has been eliminated from playoff contention.
With the 3-3 St. Louis Rams coming to Bank of America Stadium next Sunday – the Panthers have the perfect opportunity to change that trend and get on a roll when the games still matter.
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