One look at Cam Newton after Sunday's game said everything. The No. 1 overall draft pick is still struggling to figure out how to handle losing.
The rookie threw for 290 yards and had three touchdown passes for the first time, but the Carolina Panthers ended up with another close loss when Olindo Mare missed a 31-yard field goal in the final minute against the Minnesota Vikings to fall 24-21. And afterward, the "Unhappy Cam" that has become commonplace after losses - frowning and speaking in a dour tone - was back.
"Whoever thinks that this game came down to the last possession is a fool," Newton said. "Offensively and defensively, we had opportunities, man. We just didn't finish it off."
The Panthers (2-6) head into the bye week with five losses by seven points or less. This one fit right in with the others, as Carolina's offense went from efficient to stagnant in the second half with three straight three-and-outs. That's when the Vikings (2-6) rallied from a 21-14 deficit with a tying touchdown run from Adrian Peterson and the go-ahead field goal from Ryan Longwell with 2:43 left.
While Newton had a good statistical day, he also lost a pair of fumbles on blindside sacks that each led to short touchdown drives for Minnesota. After Longwell's kick, Newton had a chain-moving run deep in Vikings territory waved off by a holding penalty on Steve Smith. Those mistakes all proved critical once Mare's tying kick flew left of the uprights.
"The old saying is: some do, some don't," Newton said. "Some execute, some don't. You look at our record, it says a lot. I don't classify ourselves as a good team."
For the Vikings (2-6), Peterson had 162 yards from scrimmage and two touchdowns while rookie Christian Ponder threw for 236 yards and a touchdown to end a two-game losing streak.
Minnesota took the lead for good on a 13-play, 72-yard drive in the fourth quarter that took 7:10 off the clock.
Smith, who came into the game leading the NFL in yards receiving, had seven catches for 100 yards. Tight ends Jeremy Shockey and Greg Olsen also had touchdown catches for Carolina.
Peterson ran for 86 yards and had 76 yards receiving, including a 19-yard scoring catch in the second quarter.
Jared Allen, who entered the game leading the NFL in sacks, had a big game for the Vikings with five tackles, a sack, a forced fumble and a fumble recovery. Both of Minnesota's first-half touchdowns came after Newton fumbles in which he took blindside hits from Allen and E.J. Henderson. The Vikings scored within a minute of both of those turnovers.
Percy Harvin had four catches for 58 yards and scored on a touchdown run for the Vikings.
The game began with a crazy flurry of plays.
Marcus Sherels returned the opening kickoff and raced 78 yards to the Carolina 27. However, the Vikings went three-and-out and Longwell missed a 45-yard field goal.
It seemed Carolina had seized the early momentum with that defensive stop, but on their first play from scrimmage Henderson sacked Newton and Allen recovered the ball at the Carolina 16. Harvin, lined up in the backfield, scored two plays later on a 10-yard run to give the Vikings a 7-0 lead.
The Panthers evened the score in the second quarter when Shockey hauled in his first touchdown pass of the season, a 1-yarder from Newton, and celebrated by blowing kisses to the crowd. Less than four minutes later, following an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty on Harvin, Newton took advantage of great field position at midfield and connected on a 39-yard touchdown strike down the seam to Olsen to give Carolina a 14-7 lead.
Notes: Jared Allen has now recorded a sack in 10 straight games. ... The Panthers were already thin at linebacker coming in and lost Jason Phillips (calf) and Thomas Williams (neck) to injuries on Sunday. Both left the game and didn't return. ... Panthers defensive end Charles Johnson has a sack in seven of Carolina's eight games this season. ... Panthers cornerback Darius Butler missed the game to be with his daughter, who had open heart surgery earlier this week. She had a setback on Friday, but is doing better, according to team officials.