Vikings long season just getting longer

Published 12:00 am Monday, October 31, 2005

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) &045; Fred Smoot opened pregame warmups by spewing a steady stream of trash talk straight at receiver Steve Smith.

The Carolina Panthers knew then and there that Smith would make him pay.

Smith humiliated Smoot and the Minnesota defense for a franchise-record 201 yards and a touchdown in Carolina’s 38-13 win Sunday that kept the Vikings winless on the road.

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&8220;Fred does talk a little bit, it’s just his nature,&8221; Carolina quarterback Jake Delhomme said. &8220;And it doesn’t take much for (Smith) to get fired up, I can tell you that much.&8221;

Smith, who has a long history of letting opposing players take him out of his game, reversed the trend on Smoot and beat him all over the field. He also took a shot at Minnesota by pretending to row a boat after a big catch &045; a reference to the Vikings’ infamous boat cruise.

&8220;Whatchamacallit was talking to me in the pregame,&8221; Smith said about Smoot. &8220;When somebody is banging on your door, I am not going to hide in the corner … I am going to open it.&8221;

Smith helped the Panthers (5-2) to their first complete game of the season, as Stephen Davis ran for two touchdowns and Delhomme threw for 341 yards and three scores while stretching Carolina’s winning streak to four games.

The Vikings (2-5) showed little emotion in this one, and had no leadership after Daunte Culpepper left with a sprained right knee on the final play of the first quarter. Minnesota coach Mike Tice said the team feared Culpepper will miss the rest of the season.

&8220;The quarterback doesn’t appear to be in good shape,&8221; Tice said. &8220;Things happen that are devastating. This certainly, if it’s as serious as it appears, is devastating to our football team.&8221;

The Vikings dropped to 0-4 on the road this season, continuing a five-year trend for futility: Minnesota is 9-32 away from the Metrodome since October 2000.

&8220;We get outside and we act like we’ve never been outside in our whole lives,&8221; Tice said.

Behind backup Brad Johnson, the Vikings had just three first downs and 76 total yards while allowing the Panthers to build a 24-0 halftime lead.

&8220;When Daunte went out, they lost their leader,&8221; Carolina defensive end Mike Rucker said. &8220;He’s the head of that dragon and when he’s not there, it takes the air right out of them.&8221;

The Vikings would normally turn to Smoot, their defensive leader, for a pep talk. But the cornerback was too busy trying to contain Smith and his own frustrations.

Smith embarrassed Smoot on two quick plays in the third quarter, juking past him at the line of scrimmage to make a one-handed leaning grab for a 24-yard gain. One play later, Smith ran past Smoot on a sideline hitch for 11 yards that left Smoot face down on the grass.

When Smith was done, he had 11 catches and broke the franchise single-game record of 192

yards, set by Muhsin Muhammad in 1998.

&8220;The first thing Smoot did wrong was he talked a little too much in pregame,&8221; Carolina cornerback Ken Lucas said. &8220;He brought this upon himself.&8221;

Smoot, meanwhile, accounted for four of Minnesota’s 10 penalties &045; including a holding call in the fourth quarter that negated a fumble recovery by the Vikings. His head hanging, Smoot walked off the field midway through the fourth quarter with a right shoulder sprain.

Smoot declined to speak to reporters after the game.

Delhomme finished 21-for-30 before giving way to Chris Weinke with 5 minutes left in the game.

Delhomme used eight different receivers, opening up Carolina’s passing game beyond Smith for the first time this season. More importantly, Delhomme was mistake free for the first time this season.

He came into the game with eight interceptions, third most in the NFL.

It was an important win for the Panthers, who have failed to impress this season despite lofty expectations.

Before this victory, Carolina either needed a game-winning final drive or defensive stop in three of their wins.

Notes: Davis briefly left in the first quarter after his surgically repaired right knee was hit on a tackle. &8220;That was a good hit, I was pretty scared for a minute,&8221; he said. … Delhomme also threw touchdown passes to Kris Mangum (1 yard) and Keary Colbert (25 yards). … Carolina kicker John Kasay made a 44-yarder, but missed a 56-yard attempt. … Minnesota kicker Paul Edinger missed his only try, a 33-yarder that went wide right. … Vikings wide receiver Koren Robinson sustained a concussion.