The Panthers offense, led by the former Seminole QB, shows unexpected poise in beating the Vikings 24-13.
© St. Petersburg Times,
published September 10, 2001
MINNEAPOLIS -- The Vikings were supposed to have the polished offense, not the Panthers and rookie Chris Weinke.
The Panthers entered the season without much promise at quarterback, but the former Florida State star and Heisman Trophy winner threw a go-ahead touchdown to Muhsin Muhammad midway through the third quarter and ran for a score in the fourth, leading the Panthers to a 24-13 win over the mistake-prone Vikings.
"(Weinke) was calm and mature," said tight end Wesley Walls, who caught three passes for 74 yards after missing eight games last season with a knee injury. "He never seemed overwhelmed that we had a chance to beat the Vikings."
Carolina's Steve Smith returned the opening kickoff 93 yards for a touchdown, and the Panthers' chances were enhanced by Minnesota quarterback Daunte Culpepper's struggles. Playing their first regular-season game since the heatstroke death of lineman Korey Stringer in training camp, the Vikings committed four turnovers -- three of them interceptions of Culpepper.
"It starts with me," he said. "I should've just slowed things down. I have to make better decisions."
Culpepper threw a touchdown to Cris Carter that gave Minnesota its only lead at 13-10 late in the third quarter. He completed 22 of 38 passes for 236 yards and ran 12 times for 55 yards and a score.
Carter's touchdown, his 125th, tied him with Walter Payton for fifth on the career list. But Randy Moss was held to one catch for 28 yards, and Minnesota's offense never got on track.
"I told our team, if they make a big play in the first quarter or even the first half, we're in trouble," said Panthers cornerback Jimmy Hitchcock, a former Vikings player who intercepted a pass from Culpepper in the second quarter.
The Vikings, wearing a No. 77 patch to honor Stringer, will retire his jersey Nov. 19 against the Giants. After his death the Vikings went 4-0 in preseason games.
"I think the preseason pampered us," Moss said. "We got a little carried away."
Weinke, 29, wasn't rattled in his hometown. He was 13-for-22 for 223 yards with a touchdown and an interception.
"I felt so well-prepared for this game," Weinke said. "The coaching staff put us in a comfortable situation. I felt more nerves before a lot of college games than this one."
The Panthers got just three points out of two first-half trips inside the Vikings 10 but held a 10-0 halftime lead. Weinke found an open Muhammad for 43 yards on a flea-flicker to set up his first touchdown. On a later third and 19, Weinke hit Muhammad for a 16-yard touchdown to put the Panthers in front 17-13.
Deon Grant's interception gave Carolina the ball at the Minnesota 34 with 13:37 left. Weinke finished the drive with a 1-yard sneak to make it 24-13.