CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Jonathan Stewart ran for 103 yards and three touchdowns, and the Carolina Panthers snapped the Minnesota Vikings’ eight-game winning streak with a 31-24 victory Sunday.
Cam Newton threw for 137 yards and a touchdown and ran for 75 yards as the Panthers (9-4) racked up 216 yards on the ground against the league’s No. 2 ranked defense to pull even with the Saints atop the NFC South standings.
Carolina sacked Case Keenum six times and forced three turnovers to keep the Vikings (10-3) from clinching the NFC North division title.
After the Panthers squandered an 11-point fourth quarter lead, Newton broke free of the pocket and raced 62 yards for a key first down with 2 minutes remaining. Stewart scored his career-high third TD when he jumped over the line of scrimmage, reaching the ball across the goal line for a 31-24 lead.
Minnesota couldn’t manage a first down on its final drive and turned the ball over on downs.
The Panthers seemed in control midway through the fourth quarter leading 24-13 after Newton made an off-balance throw to Devin Funchess for an 18-yard touchdown, and Mario Addison’s strip-sack set up Graham Gano’s field goal.
But the Vikings came charging back to tie it as Keenum hooked up on a 52-yard scoring strike on a crossing route. Blake Bell added 2-point conversion catch to cut the lead to three.
On Carolina’s next possession, Vikings safety Andrew Sendejo intercepted Newton on a ball that sailed off the hands of Christian McCaffrey and returned it to the Carolina 6. But Carolina’s defense had a huge stop, holding the Vikings to a field goal leaving the game tied with 3:07 left.
Vikings: Linebacker Emmanuel Lamur left game with a foot injury and did not return.
Panthers: Tight end Greg Olsen left briefly after re-injuring his foot, but did return.
Vikings: Host the Bengals next Sunday.
Panthers: Host the Packers next Sunday.
Case Keenum’s improbable season has the Minnesota Vikings thinking playoffs.
Keenum entered the league as an undrafted rookie in 2012, one year after Cam Newton made a splash as the No. 1 overall pick by the Carolina Panthers.
While the two quarterbacks have taken dramatically different paths, it is Keenum who has the Vikings positioned to win the NFC North — and perhaps even earn home-field advantage throughout the playoffs.
The Vikings (10-2) can clinch their second division title — and first with Keenum at the helm — in three years by beating Newton’s Panthers (8-4) on the road Sunday. Minnesota can also clinch if Green Bay and Detroit lose or tie.
Keenum’s success doesn’t surprise Panthers wide receiver Russell Shepard, who regularly works out with the fifth-year quarterback in the offseason.
“The Vikings called him last-minute,” Shepard said of Keenan signing with the Vikings last offseason. “They wanted him, kind of in his mind from what he was telling me, as a camp body, an extra guy, knowing the injuries at quarterback with Teddy (Bridgewater) still being hurt. Just to see him take off, man, it’s one of those crazy stories.”
Keenum is 8-2 as the Vikings starter since taking over for the injured Sam Bradford, after struggling in his previous 26 starts with the Rams and Texans.
Shepard said it makes for a great story.
“We’re like the misfits, like the rug rats,” said Shepard of undrafted players, of which he is one.
“In this league, in life in general, everybody wants to see the underdog succeed. Everybody wants to see the guy that nobody expected to be that guy.”
ACROSS FROM KALIL: Vikings defensive end Everson Griffen has sacked Carolina’s Cam Newton five times in two games, including three of Minnesota’s eight sacks in the 22-10 victory in Charlotte on Sept. 25, 2016. This time, he’ll be lined up across former teammate Matt Kalil, who spent the past five seasons with the Vikings.
Griffen and Kalil were also college teammates at Southern Cal, so their friendship dates back almost a decade.
“I’m going to watch my tape. I’m going to study him. I’m going to know him better than I know my phone number,” said Griffen, whose 42½ sacks since becoming a full-time starter in 2014 are the third-most in the NFL in that span.
“I’m just going to go out there and rush him. Set him up, use what I use, use my God’s gifts, which is my speed. He knows that. I’m just excited to go up against him. It’s going to be fun. I haven’t seen him in a while so it’s going to be a fun game.”
Kalil has struggled at times in his transition to Carolina. He had two penalties last week against the Saints for 25 yards, but was playing after receiving an IV before the game because of the flu.
REMEMBER REMMERS?: The Vikings spent big in free agency to find two new starting tackles, Riley Reiff and Mike Remmers, a major overhaul of the offensive line including the drafting of center Pat Elflein and the jettisoning of left guard Alex Boone that has paid off big time.
Remmers was a starter on the Panthers team that reached the Super Bowl two seasons ago. He has not played in more than a month, however, first because of a concussion and then because of a lower back injury. Remmers was held out of practice on Wednesday, putting his availability again in question. Rashod Hill has capably filled his spot.
OLSEN’S RETURN: Panthers tight end Greg Olsen appears ready to go against the Vikings, his first extensive action since Week 2. Olsen missed eight games on injured reserve with a broken foot. He returned two weeks ago against the Jets, but played about a quarter before leaving with soreness. He did not play last week against the Saints on a turf field.
“I’m crossing my fingers that he’s back,” Newton said.
Carolina coach Ron Rivera said he believes playing on a grass field will help Olsen’s foot.
GETTING STOPS: The Vikings are the NFL’s best at getting off the field on third down. They limited the Falcons to one of 10 conversions on third down last week after Atlanta had gone 27 for 41 over its previous three games.
Minnesota is allowing opposing offenses to convert just 27 percent (40 for 148) of third down chances.
That success has been matched on the other side of the ball, too. The Vikings offense is first in the league in third down conversions, at 46 percent (74 of 161).
HOME SWEET HOME: The Panthers are looking to make a playoff push as well. Their next three games are at home with Green Bay and Tampa Bay to follow the Vikings this week.
AP Pro Football Writer Dave Campbell in Minneapolis contributed to this report.
For more NFL coverage: www.pro32.ap.org and www.twitter.com/AP_NFL