- David Newton, ESPN Staff Writer
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CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- It's playoff time in Minneapolis.
Here are three keys for the Panthers:
Yo Adrian: Coach Ron Rivera is right; what is happening in Adrian Peterson's personal life with his 2-year-old son is "absolutely horrible." But a key for the Panthers and every team that faces the Vikings is to stop Peterson, who won't be feeling sorry for the Carolina defense. He is the most dangerous running back in the NFL for a reason. He's second in the league in rushing with 421 yards, averaging 4.6 yards per carry. The Panthers can't afford to let him break a long run as they did Buffalo's C.J. Spiller, the only back to rush for 100 yards against them this season. The good news for Carolina is its defense ranks seventh against the run, holding opponents to 92.3 yards a game. If they can do that against Peterson and put all the pressure on quarterback Matt Cassel, this game could get absolutely horrible for the Vikings.
Consistent Cam: Quarterback Cam Newton must become more consistent. He at least admitted that this week, so he knows what he has to work on. He's particularly inconsistent in the second half where his passing accuracy has dropped from 63 to 50 percent in Carolina's three losses. But for Newton to be consistent his offensive line has to help. In losses to Buffalo and Arizona they gave up a combined 13 sacks. While some of those are on Newton for holding the ball too long, teams have discovered the line less than efficient against blitzes and fronts of five or more players. If that doesn't change, neither will Newton's consistency.
Handle adversity: A consistent trait with this team is the inability to bounce back when a couple of things go wrong. Example: Steve Smith dropped a touchdown pass in the first quarter against Arizona and Brandon LaFell a first-down pass deep in Cardinals territory later in the half. Carolina still went into halftime 6-3, but played like it was behind to open the second half of the 22-6 loss. This team has to find a way to rise above mistakes and win the games that are winnable, particularly when in a hostile and loud environment like Minnesota. As cornerback Captain Munnerlyn said, they have to believe they can win not go "uh, oh, here it goes again" when things go awry.