The eyes of the NFL were squarely fixed on Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson on Friday, but it had nothing to do with football.
News broke that a two-year-old son of the reigning MVP had died on Friday, allegedly due to injuries related to child abuse. Peterson spoke to the media and asked for privacy, and took to Twitter to thank supporters around the league. He said he expects to play on Sunday against the Carolina Panthers at Mall of America Field.
That kind of tragedy will weigh heavy on Peterson as the Vikings come out of their bye week, and face an inconsistent Panthers squad.
Minnesota won their first game of the season two weeks ago 34-27 over Pittsburgh, but had to travel to London to do so. Peterson rushed for 140 yards and two touchdowns on 23 carries, most coming from a 60-yard scamper in the second quarter.
Quarterback Matt Cassel made his first start of the season in place of Christian Ponder, and is expected to start against in Week Six. Cassel went 16-for-25 for 248 yards and two touchdowns, but will have to worry about recently signed quarterback Josh Freeman waiting in the wings.
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Both of Cassel’s touchdowns went to receiver Greg Jennings, his first two scores of the season since signing with Minnesota.
The Vikings secondary surrendered 357 passing yards, but did force a Ben Roethlisberger interception, and the frontline came up with a season-high five sacks. Defensive end Jared Allen accounted for 2.5 sacks.
Carolina entered its bye week off the biggest win in franchise history, a 38-0 blowout over the New York Giants, but came out of the bye with a 22-6 letdown at Arizona last week.
Quarterback Cam Newton was sacked seven times, including once in the end zone for an Arizona safety, and threw three interceptions. The Panthers top ranked defense also gave up 19 points in the second half.
Newton passed for 308 yards, most going to tight end Greg Olsen, who had five receptions for 79 yards. Newton also spread the ball to receiver Ted Ginn Jr., who had four catches for 78 yards.
Carolina’s 1-3 start is similar to last year, when they began 1-7 only to go 6-3 down the final stretch. The defense has certainly done its part, ranking third in total defense (301.5 yards) and third in points allowed per game (14.5).
Head coach Ron Rivera isn’t pointing fingers on either side of the ball, and according to the Charlotte Observer, he believes much of the Panthers troubles have come from missed opportunities.
“We had opportunities and we didn’t take advantage of them,” Rivera said. “Whether we dropped a ball, missed a throw, missed a block, we missed a cut, we missed a tackle, we didn’t fit our gap. And that’s disappointing.”
Coverage of the game starts at 1 p.m. ET and will be broadcast by FOX, or watch a live online stream by purchasing NFL Game Access here.
Betting Odds: Minnesota is favored by 2 points.
Over/Under: 44 points.
Prediction: Minnesota 30, Carolina 20