The Panthers had an awful start, giving up a 78-yard return to Marcus Sherels on the opening kickoff.
Carolina dodged a bullet when the defense held and Ryan Longwell pulled a 45-yard field goal attempt wide right.
But they could not keep the Vikings out of the end zone after quarterback Cam Newton fumbled on the Panthers' first offensive play. Jared Allen recovered at the Panthers' 16-yard line.
Two Percy Harvin carries later, the Vikings had a 7-0 lead.
It was Newton's first lost fumble of the season. The Panthers are 0-5 when Newton has a turnover.
The Panthers drove into Vikings' territory on their next drive, which stalled when rookie right tackle Byron Bell was called for holding.
The Panthers were in Minnesota territory again as the first quarter ended.