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Vikings' two punt-block TDs lead to rout of Panthers

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The Minnesota Vikings' (5-7) special teams scored twice as the team rolled over the Carolina Panthers (3-8-1), 31-13, on a cold day at TFC Bank Stadium. Our takeaways:

1. The Vikings blocked and returned two punts for touchdowns in the first half. They were the first team since 1990 to return two blocked punts for scores in the same game. It's only the fourth occurrence in NFL history. That was the difference in the game. Most of the rest was a struggle against ineptitude.

2. Jonathan Stewart needs to carry the load every game. The Panthers back ran tough between the tackles and showed burst through the second level. He had a big 26-yard run early (his longest since 2011). Stewart ended with 85 yards rushing on 12 carries and two catches for 25 yards. The insistence on running DeAngelo Williams must end.

3. With Jerick McKinnon out, the question of how the Vikings would manage the rushing attack went as predicted. Matt Asiata started and was typically non-explosive, finishing with 52 yards on 14 carries (3.7 average). Joe Banyard carried just twice for 8 yards. Ben Tate didn't see his first snap until the second half -- he carried five times for 15 yards, including a team-long 9-yard run. This is a depressing group sans McKinnon.

4. Teddy Bridgewater played fine in the cold. He didn't wow, but he didn't make a mistake. He made a nice rollout throw to Kyle Rudolph on the opening drive. Most of Bridgewater's 15 completions on 21 passes for 138 yards were on simple routes, screens or checkdowns. He did hit on a nice, spot-on deep throw to Jarius Wright for 35 yards, but the Vikes barely threatened to stretch the field.

5. Cam Newton was off-target all day, throwing high and wide with consistency. Once again, he didn't have time to get the ball downfield, aside from a touchdown to Philly Brown (32 yards). He was most effective on direct runs for easy first downs on short-yardage plays. Newton finished 18-of-35 passing for 194 yards, a touchdown, an interception and 49 rushing yards on nine carries.

6. Vikings defensive end Everson Griffen was beastly again with two sacks. He also had the longest blocked punt return for a touchdown in Vikings history (43 yards).

7. Cordarrelle Patterson didn't start for third straight game. He didn't play a snap until the second play of the second half, which was a halfhearted effort at a screen pass. The offseason dream is 84 feet underground. Coach Mike Zimmer said after the game that Patterson missed time this past week to attend a funeral and his benching was not disciplinary, per ESPN.

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