Favre struggles as Panthers stifle Vikings

It was supposed to be a night when the Minnesota Vikings celebrated

a division title and inched closer to the best record in the NFC.

Instead it was night of dropped passes, missed tackles, poor

protection — and a dustup between Brett Favre and the coach who

worked so hard to bring him back from retirement.

After the Carolina Panthers dominated the fourth quarter

Sunday night in a 26-7 win over the Vikings, Favre acknowledged he

had a “heated discussion” with coach Brad Childress.

Favre claimed the coach wanted to take him out of the game to

avoid taking any more hits from Julius Peppers and the Carolina

defensive line.

The Vikings (11-3) clinched the NFC North title hours earlier

when Pittsburgh beat Green Bay.

“Brad wanted to go in a different direction. And I wanted to

stay in the game,” Favre said. “It’s not 70-6, but we were up 7-6.

I said I’m staying in the game. I’m playing.”

It didn’t work out well, with the Panthers outscoring

Minnesota 20-0 in the fourth quarter.

Surprisingly, the best quarterback on the field wasn’t the

40-year-old Favre, but Matt Moore. In his third start for the

injured Jake Delhomme, Moore threw for a career-high 299 yards and

three touchdown passes.

Steve Smith caught nine passes for 157 yards, including the

go-ahead touchdown pass and a long catch and run set up the

clinching score. Jonathan Stewart added 109 yards rushing and a TD

on 25 carries, snapping Minnesota’s streak of 36 games without

allowing a 100-yard rusher.

The Panthers (6-8), who were officially eliminated from

playoff contention a night earlier, were the more energized team.

They harassed Favre all night, sacking him four times.

Childress apparently wanted to protect his QB. Favre would

have nothing of it.

“No way being up 7-6 and getting banged around a little bit

would I consider coming out,” Favre said.

Favre was 17 of 27 for 224 yards and no touchdowns. Adrian

Peterson had a tackle-breaking 4-yard touchdown run, but was held

to 35 yards rushing. But Carolina’s struggles on offense kept

Minnesota in the lead until the fourth quarter — even if Childress

wanted to make a change at QB.

“We were just having a good conversation about the game was

heading at that point and time,” Childress said of the

third-quarter argument. “And what we needed to do to head the other

way.”

It was another Sunday night dud for the Vikings, who were

blown out two weeks ago in Arizona and dropped to 4-3 on the road.

“We were playing great defense until the fourth quarter,”

said Vikings defensive end Jared Allen, outplayed by Carolina

counterpart Peppers. “We’ve got to dig down, we’ve got to find that

fight within us to win games. You’ve got to battle for it.”

The Panthers (6-8) lost top rusher DeAngelo Williams to a

first-quarter ankle injury, then made numerous key errors that kept

them out of the end zone until an improbable touchdown early in the

fourth quarter.

Facing third-and-26, Moore heaved a pass to the right side

and Smith beat Antoine Winfield for a 42-yard touchdown and a 12-7

lead.

“Smitty is a special guy, so it was one of those deals where

if we get this look we want to throw it up to him and let him make

a play,” Moore said. “That’s really what he did.”

It was the beginning of three touchdowns on consecutive

drives. Smith’s 45-yard, tackle-breaking catch-and-run set up

Stewart’s 3-yard TD run.

Moore then threw a 2-yard TD pass to Stewart to put it away.

Moore, who went undrafted out of Oregon State in 2007,

completed 21 of 33 passes with no interceptions and improved to 4-2

as an NFL starter.

“It’ll be a win I’ll remember for a while, I think,” he said.

Favre’s difficult night ended when he was picked off in the

end zone by Chris Harris on the ensuing possession.

“That was one of our more complete games,” Panthers coach

John Fox said. “We had a more complete one out in Arizona, it seems

like 100 years ago. But it was good to see those guys show up like

they did tonight.”

It was about 35 minutes before kickoff when the video boards

showed Pittsburgh’s winning touchdown on the final play over Green

Bay that clinched the NFC North title for Minnesota.

The Vikings fans in the stands — and there were plenty of

them — cheered wildly. But there was little reaction from the

players. Favre did stop briefly to check the replay, which showed

Mike Wallace was inbounds on his diving catch as time expired for

the Steelers. Favre then took a snap and fired the ball downfield

to continue his warmups.

The Vikings’ chance to clinch a first-round bye Sunday was

dashed a few minutes earlier when Philadelphia beat San Francisco.

But with the Saints’ first loss, the Vikings had a chance to move

within a game of the Saints for home-field advantage throughout the

NFC playoffs.

Instead, Minnesota remains two games back and the coach and

the QB weren’t on the same page.

“I don’t know if it’s exactly to protect me. We had seven

points,” Favre said. “That’s his call, but we talked it out.”

Game notes

Vikings WR Percy Harvin was held to one catch for 10 yards

after missing a game with migraine headaches. Harvin and Childress

wouldn’t address an NBC report that Harvin will be examined this

week for two bulging disks in his neck. … The Vikings last

allowed 100 yards to Green Bay’s Ryan Grant in 2007.