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(Sunday, December 20th)
Final Score: Carolina 26, Minnesota 7
Charlotte, NC (Sports Network) - Matt Moore threw for 299 yards and three touchdowns as Carolina held Minnesota to its lowest point total of the season in a 26-7 triumph.
Steve Smith had nine catches for 157 yards, including the go-ahead 42-yard score on the second play of the fourth quarter, for Carolina, which held a 397-237 yardage advantage. The Panthers also held the ball for nearly 38 minutes.
The Vikings captured their second straight NFC North crown even before they took the field. That's because Green Bay lost, 37-36, at Pittsburgh on the game's final play earlier Sunday.
Carolina's defense did a phenomenal job on the Vikings and limited Brett Favre to 224 yards on 17-of-27 passing. He was also picked off late in the final quarter, a period in which the Vikings were outscored, 20-0.
Moore started in place of an injured Jake Delhomme and connected on 21-of-33 passes and wasn't intercepted as the Panthers (6-8) bounced back from a 20-10 loss at New England last week. Delhomme is still bothered by a broken finger on his throwing hand.
"It's the character of these guys," Moore said. "We know we're out of it. We've got tough teams coming up and we've had tough teams in the past. Guys want to win. That's the ultimate thing and the approach we're taking, to grind and finish on a high note."
DeAngelo Williams hurt his left ankle midway through the second quarter and didn't return. Jonathan Stewart received the bulk of the carries and finished with 25 carries for 109 yards and score. Stewart also caught a touchdown pass.
Stewart's performance snapped a 36-game streak for the Vikings not allowing a 100-yard rusher. The last time the team gave up 100 yards to an individual was on November 11, 2007, when Green Bay's Ryan Grant ran for 102 yards
Adrian Peterson was limited to 35 yards on 12 carries, but did score the only touchdown for the Vikings (11-3), who were coming off a 30-10 home win over Cincinnati. They had a chance to close the gap against New Orleans (13-1) for the top seed in the NFC, but are now looking at Philadelphia (10-4) at possibly stealing a first-round bye for the playoffs.
Favre, who was sacked four times and faced pressure all night, admitted after the game he had a heated discussion with head coach Brad Childress in the third quarter. Favre said Childress wanted to take him out of the game when the score was 7-6.
"It's no secret I was getting hit a little bit," Favre said. "I felt the pressure on a lot of plays. Julius Peppers played a great game. We had seven points, so I think everyone in the building was saying we're not moving the ball, not getting points. Brad wanted to go in a different direction and I wanted to stay in the game.
"I said I'm staying in the game, I'm playing. I don't know if it was to protect me. I'm not sure. That's his call, but we talked it out. My response was we've to win this ball game. I want to stay in and do whatever I can. Unfortunately I didn't do that. Those were my intentions."
Moore's long pass to Smith on the right side gave the Panthers the lead in the opening moments of the fourth. Vikings cornerback Antoine Winfield fell down as Smith made the catch in the end zone. The subsequent two-point conversion try failed, leaving the Panthers with a 12-7 edge.
Stewart then scored on a three-yard run to the left side, breaking a couple of tackles with 9:18 remaining for a 19-7 difference. The score was set up by Smith's 45-yard catch.
Moore threw two yards to Stewart for a TD with 3:07 left and Favre was picked off in the end zone by Chris Harris less than a minute later.
The Vikings failed in an opportunity for the game's first points late in the opening quarter when Ryan Longwell's 39-yard field goal try clanked off the right upright.
Carolina then embarked on a 15-play, 71-yard drive that ate 8:01 off the clock. Moore capped it with a one-yard TD pass to Brad Hoover. Jon Kasay's extra point try was blocked by Ray Edwards leaving the score 6-0 with 10:55 left in the half.
Peterson scored on a four-yard run with nearly five minutes left in the half and the Vikings maintained that 7-6 edge going to the locker room thanks in part to a late penalty on the Panthers.
Kasay hit a long field goal on what would have been the final play of the half, but a false start penalty on Garry Williams pushed the ball back to the Minnesota 34. Moore then threw a prayer pass that landed incomplete.
Minnesota's Sidney Rice fumbled midway through the third quarter, giving the Panthers, the ball, but they had the punt.
The Vikings play at Chicago next Monday night, while the Panthers are on the road to play the playoff-hopeful New York Giants Sunday...This marks the first time since 1977-78 the Vikings have won consecutive division titles.
12/21 01:45:18 ET
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