MINNEAPOLIS -- The Carolina Panthers have more important things to worry about than whether the rest of the league thinks they're any good.
They're already focused on trying to run their record to 4-0 next weekend at Green Bay.
Lamar Smith carried 30 times for 154 yards and scored two fourth-quarter touchdowns in Carolina's 21-14 victory over the Minnesota Vikings on Sunday.
"We can't really make anyone take us seriously or not," said safety Deon Grant, who intercepted Daunte Culpepper three times. "It definitely doesn't matter to us.
"New England won a Super Bowl, and they still didn't take those boys seriously until this year."
The Panthers are 3-0 for the first time since 1996.
"Nobody really expected it, except for the people in this locker room," said quarterback Rodney Peete, a surprise choice to be the starter this year over Chris Weinke.
But surprise is the wrong word to use around first-year coach John Fox.
"Nothing surprises me," Fox said. "Am I pleased? Am I happy? Am I proud of where our team is? Yes. But not surprised."
Peete wasn't perfect, but he did his part -- completing 20 of 30 passes for 221 yards, a touchdown and two interceptions. And the Panthers, 1-15 in 2001, played excellent defense against a team that scored 39 points last week.
They entered the game ranked second in the NFL in total yards allowed, though that stat was padded by the less-than-potent offenses of Baltimore and Detroit in their first two games.
But the Vikings, 0-3 for the first time since 1967, had just 250 total yards and turned the ball over four times. Daunte Culpepper was 19-of-30 for 191 yards, a touchdown and a career-high four interceptions.
"We couldn't get in sync," Culpepper said. "On offense, you've got to be in rhythm. It's all about rhythm."
Culpepper's frustrations were visible early in the fourth quarter. He hopped and yelled at Randy Moss on the sideline after a third-down overthrow forced another punt.
"Daunte just wants to win, just like any guy in his profession," said Moss, who had four catches for 16 yards. "I think he's just very frustrated that we're sitting right now at 0-3."
Though Culpepper, Moss and now-retired wide receiver Cris Carter had their share of shouting matches on the sideline last year, Tice didn't think this was a big deal.
"I have faith in Daunte. He is a kid who wants to do well," Tice said. "Hey, I yell, too. It doesn't mean that I don't love my guys. We are competitive people by nature."
Deon Grant had three interceptions, the last coming on a heave by Culpepper on the game's final play as boos resonated throughout the emptying Metrodome.
"I knew for a fact we were frustrating him," Grant said. "We were disguising our coverages early and that got him confused."
The Panthers trailed 7-0 until late in the third quarter when Steve Smith slipped behind Greg Biekert for a 14-yard touchdown reception to tie it. Carolina added two more touchdowns by Lamar Smith before the Vikings finally scored again on a 4-yard TD catch by Chris Walsh with 3:29 left.
"I told the players I don't want to pick up the paper tomorrow morning and see someone saying, 'It's my fault. I lost the game,"' Tice said. "That's bull. This was a team loss."
Notes: Panthers CB Terry Fair broke his right ankle and will need surgery. Rookie DE Julius Peppers hurt his left finger and is day to day, as is WR Muhsin Muhammad, who injured his left hamstring. ... Minnesota's top two TEs, Byron Chamberlain and Jim Kleinsasser, were inactive with injuries. LB Henri Crockett left in the third quarter with a sprained elbow and didn't return. Neither did G Corbin Lacina after a fourth-quarter concussion. ... Bennett has three fumbles this season after 201 carries without one in his rookie year. ... Panthers T Todd Steussie, who made a Pro Bowl during his seven years with the Vikings but had a penchant for foolish penalties, was called for a false start in the third quarter that drew a loud cheer.
Vikings stats, Page 4S
Brainerd Dispatch ©2013. All Rights Reserved.