Peterson finished with 62 yards on 10 carries and 21 yards on three receptions, but the Vikings (1-4) trailed the whole game and didn't have much use after halftime for Peterson. The NFL MVP learned on Friday a 2-year-old son of his died in South Dakota of injuries from alleged abuse.
"It's tough. It's a crazy situation," Peterson said. "Anytime you lose a child, no matter the circumstances, it hurts. I can't describe it. But I've got a good supporting cast surrounding me."
Whether the team was distracted by the tragedy or not, the Vikings were thoroughly embarrassed on both sides of the ball by a team that had 11 penalties, seven sacks allowed and only six points in defeat the week before.
Newton perhaps was at his best since he was a rookie two years ago, finishing with 242 yards on 20 for 26 and with 30 yards on nine rushes. He threw for scores to Steve Smith and Mike Tolbert in the first half to cap long, commanding drives, and found Brandon LaFell for a 79-yard touchdown to start the third quarter.
Tolbert scored on a short run in the fourth, too, and many of the fans who spent the afternoon booing quickly bolted from their seats to try to beat traffic.
Newton had six turnovers in their first four games, but a near-helpless Vikings defense failed to force any after totaling 12 over the first four games.
Peterson talked Friday about turning to football for relief from sorrow, as he's done several times over a life filled with adverse events, but this couldn't have been any fun. He rarely found room against a defense that has not allowed a 100-yard rusher for nine straight games.
Peterson said he never had second thoughts about playing and declined to talk specifically about the relationship he had with his son.
"I just prayed and asked God to give me the strength to get through the game and remain focused and, for the most part, I did," Peterson said. "It's a terrible way to lose, but we can learn from this and make some corrections."
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Ponder's biggest problem was turnovers, so when Cassel threw for 248 yards and two touchdowns without a giveaway last game while Ponder sat out because of a broken rib, a permanent change appeared inevitable. After three early completions for first downs, Cassel was hit as he threw and sailed a pass over the head of Greg Jennings right to Mitchell for an easy interception.
Then the Panthers went the other way in 15 plays for a touchdown, aided by a dropped pick-off attempt by Jamarca Sanford and a third-down holding penalty by Chris Cook that wiped out a sack. Newton and the Panthers drained 9½ minutes off the clock on that drive, converting two fourth downs, including the 2-yard toss to Smith.
Any hope the Vikings had of a comeback crumbled in the opening minute of the second half. LaFell was wide open as he sprinted untouched along the sideline in an apparent coverage mix-up.
Newton found the end zone again on the next drive, a 9-yard scramble after eluding the rush.
"I think that showing a little confidence and faith in them has really helped," Rivera said.
NOTES: The Vikings lost S Harrison Smith (turf toe, left foot), CB Xavier Rhodes (sprained right ankle) and LB Desmond Bishop (sprained right knee) to injuries. They'll have MRIs on Monday. ... Danielle Kalil, the sister of Vikings T Matt Kalil and Panthers C Ryan Kalil, sang the national anthem. ... Panthers T Jordan Gross moved past Muhsin Muhammad into third place on the franchise's all-time list for games played with 156, behind John Kasay (221) and Smith (172).
Copyright 2013 by The Associated Press