MINNEAPOLIS — The Carolina Panthers were sympathetic to Adrian Peterson’s grief. They weren’t going to take it easy on him, though.
Peterson’s tumultuous week ended with a quiet Sunday because the Panthers made all the noise.
Cam Newton threw three touchdown passes and ran for another score, and the Panthers romped past the mourning running back and the Minnesota Vikings 35-10.
Peterson finished with 62 yards on 10 carries and 21 yards on three receptions, but the Vikings (1-4) didn’t have much use after halftime for him. Peterson learned 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.”
Said Vikings coach Leslie Frazier: “I thought he handled it as well as you can.”
Matt Cassel threw two interceptions, both to Mike Mitchell, and the Panthers (2-3) responded each time with a touchdown. Distracted or not, the Vikings were 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.
“When one guy has a tragedy like that, we all kind of feel it in a way,” Mitchell said, adding: “We still have our goals that we have to get accomplished. So that’s not in any way disrespectful to Adrian.”
Newton was at his best since he was a rookie two years ago, going 20 for 26 for 242 yards without a turnover. 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.
“His focus and attention to detail on things all week, I think it’s all part of the process of him developing. He understands it, and he’s going to continue to work at it,” coach Ron Rivera said.
Tolbert scored on a short run in the fourth, and many of the fans who spent the afternoon booing quickly bolted from their seats to try to beat traffic.
Peterson rarely found room against a defense that has not allowed a 100-yard rusher for nine straight games. He said he never had second thoughts about playing, declining again to speak specifically about his dead 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.”
Cassel kept the job over Christian Ponder and went 32 for 44 for 241 yards and a late score, but the two interceptions were costly. Josh Freeman could be the next quarterback soon.
“The guys in that locker room won’t throw in the towel. We’ve just got to find some momentum,” Cassel said.
The Panthers were aided by a dropped interception attempt by Jamarca Sanford and a third-down holding penalty by Chris Cook that wiped out a sack for their first touchdown. Newton’s 2-yard toss to Smith came on the second fourth-down conversion of the 9-minute drive, a sign of trust from Rivera.
“He’s a defensive coach by nature so he always has that conservative mentality, but I think he’s kind of breaking his mold to a degree and giving the whole team confidence with that,” Newton said.
Newton then used a shovel pass to feed fullback Tolbert, who barged through the middle of Minnesota’s defense for a 10-yard touchdown and a 14-0 lead. 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 when struggling cornerback Josh Robinson left him to play zone, and nobody came to help.
“He went straight to the flat, and I went straight up the field,” LaFell said.
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).