Carolina focused on stopping Peterson

October, 13, 2013
10/13/13
6:35
PM ET
MINNEAPOLIS -- Carolina Panthers safety Mike Mitchell felt sympathy for what Adrian Peterson was going through with the death of Peterson's 2-year-old son.

Mitchell felt so much that he quoted a Bible verse, Jeremiah 29:11, to the Minnesota running back during the first drive of Sunday's 35-10 victory over the Vikings.

If you aren't familiar, it reads: "'For I know the plans I have for you,' declares the Lord, 'plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.'"

[+] EnlargeAdrian Peterson
AP Photo/Ann HeisenfeltThe Panthers limited Adrian Peterson to just 62 yards, the fewest he's had in a game this season.
Then Mitchell went out and had two interceptions and helped the league's third-ranked defense hold the league's best back to a season-low 62 yards, his lowest total since the second game last season.

And 31 of those yards came on one run after the game was well out of hand.

So while sympathetic to Peterson, the Panthers weren't generous. They couldn't be, and coach Ron Rivera let them know that during a Saturday night team meeting in which he reminded them of their job.

"The NFL is a fraternity," Mitchell said. "So when one guy has a tragedy like that, we all kind of feel it in a way. Coach Rivera addressed that. [He said] at the end of the day ... we still have our destiny. We still have our goals that we have to get accomplished.

"It's not that we're in any way disrespectful to Adrian. We felt that. We all feel that. ... But at the same time we came out here with the mindset we need to kick their butt to keep ourselves alive, our season alive."

The Panthers (2-3) did that, and once again it was the defense that set the tone with Mitchell's interception on Minnesota's opening drive.

They held the Vikings to 290 yards of total offense. They didn't surrender a touchdown until Matt Cassel connected on 23-yard pass to tight end Kyle Rudolph with a minute remaining and most of the home fans already in the parking lot.

It all began with shutting down Peterson, whose son died on Friday in Sioux Falls, S.D., from an alleged aggravated assault.

"It was right on time," Mitchell said of Rivera's speech. "It was just what we needed. He's a great leader, and that's what great leaders do. You saw by the way we played that's what we needed to hear."

The Panthers were relentless. Defensive coordinator Sean McDermott found countless ways to get eight players at the line to shut Peterson down without giving up too much in the secondary.

"Listen," said linebacker Thomas Davis, who had two sacks. "He made the decision to play on this game. For us, it was all about going out and competing and playing whoever was on the field. That was a decision [Peterson] had to make going through this situation. He decided to play, so we played as well."

That didn't mean they didn't care.

"As a player and as a father, if something like that was to happen to one of my kids I couldn't imagine playing in a football game," Davis said. "Some way, he found the will to go out and play. For me as a father, I can't imagine going through something like that."

That's why Rivera made the speech. He wanted to make sure there were no distractions, that the Panthers were aware the Vikings (1-4) could rally around Peterson as the Kansas City Chiefs did last season after linebacker Jovan Belcher shot himself in the head at the team's training facility the day before they faced Carolina.

The Chiefs, who had lost 10 of their first 11 games, won that game 27-21.

"It was more or less a speech as fathers, as men, we all feel for him," Davis said of Peterson. "But at the same time the game is going to played, and we've got to go out and play. That's what we had to do."

That's what they did.

David Newton | email

ESPN Carolina Panthers reporter

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