CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- It was a tailor-made excuse, which is why the Carolina Panthers weren't clinging to it in the wake of their 22-10 loss to the Minnesota Vikings on Sunday. Yes, their city had suffered through tragedy and trauma this past week. Yes, it was unquestionably a difficult situation to watch. However, that didn't make it an explanation as to why they fell so flat in a winnable home game against a wounded opponent, at least not in their eyes.
The Panthers will see plenty of errors when they review the film of this contest. What won't be so visible is the emotional toll this week had on them. The world was watching closely after all the craziness began -- Charlotte police shot and killed Keith Lamont Scott last Tuesday while another man, Justin Carr, died after sustaining gunshot wounds (allegedly inflicted by another civilian) during a protest a day later -- and the Panthers were caught in the crosshairs of controversy. Many of the players spent last week answering questions about the unrest building in their city, while all were affected by the midnight curfews and the presence of the national guard on downtown streets.
The Panthers certainly put in their work and tried to ignore the distractions. But it's also not impossible to think that their focus wasn't tainted by the fact that protesters were still planning demonstrations on Sunday, and Bank of America Stadium was surrounded by police in riot gear.
Carolina was well on its way to doing that after building an early 10-point lead in the first quarter. That was before Minnesota -- which has been riddled with injuries to stars like quarterback Teddy Bridgewater, running back Adrian Peterson, left tackle Matt Kalil and defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd -- scored its first points on a safety after sacking Panthers quarterback Cam Newton in the Carolina end zone. Carolina's early momentum also kept evaporating after Vikings return man Marcus Sherels returned a punt 54 yards for a touchdown. By the end of the game, the Panthers were left to explain all sorts of mysteries: the one pass thrown to their best wide receiver, Kelvin Benjamin; the eight sacks amassed by the Vikings' defense; and, the complete lack of energy in the second half as Minnesota seized control of the game.
The loss left Carolina at 1-2 on the season, which is only unsettling when considering the Panthers lost two games all of last year. They vowed to correct the problems, and they swore that there's no reason to panic after losing to two playoff teams in three weeks (the Super Bowl champion Denver Broncos beat them in the season opener). They were the types of proclamations that one should expect from a team with plenty of high expectations. However, this was a very different type of game week in Carolina, even if they want to act like it had less of an impact on them than everyone else who lives here.
"I don't think that's fair," said head coach Ron Rivera when asked if the week's event played some role in Sunday's outcome. "When we are here, we practice and we do the things we are supposed to do. We got out and answered the questions. What happened here was very tragic and what we were hoping to do was come out and put that aside for a while. We just didn't play very well."