CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) - Presented with an opportunity to get back into the race for the best record in the NFC, Brett Favre and the Minnesota Vikings fell flat with another Sunday night dud.
Steve Smith caught the go-ahead touchdown pass and his long catch and run set up the clinching score and the Carolina Panthers used a ferocious defense to stifle Favre, Adrian Peterson and the Vikings in a 26-7 victory.
Hours after clinching the NFC North when Green Bay lost, the Vikings (11-3) failed to move within a game of NFC-leading New Orleans a night after the Saints' first loss of the season.
Surprisingly, the best quarterback on the field wasn't the 40-year-old Favre, but Matt Moore. In his third start for the injured Jake Delhomme, Moore threw three touchdown passes.
A four-time Pro Bowl pick, Smith had been quiet most of the season with Carolina's quarterback woes. But he caught nine passes for 157 yards and keyed Carolina's 20-point fourth quarter.
Jonathan Stewart had 109 yards rushing on 25 carries, snapping Minnesota's NFL-long steak of 36 games without allowing a 100-yard rusher.
Moore threw for a career-high 299 yards and no interceptions for the Panthers (6-8), who lost top rusher DeAngelo Williams to a first-quarter ankle injury, then made numerous key errors that kept them out of the end zone until an improbable touchdown early in the fourth quarter.
Facing third-and-26, Moore heaved a pass to the right side and Smith beat Antoine Winfield for a 42-yard touchdown and a 12-7 lead. Moore then missed an open Kenny Moore on a 2-point conversion pass and Carolina led 12-7.
It was the beginning of three touchdowns on consecutive fourth-quarter drives. Smith's 45-yard, tackle-breaking catch-and-run set up Stewart's 3-yard TD run.
Moore, looking poised in the pocket and getting time to throw despite an offensive line that lost both starting tackles, then threw a 2-yard TD pass to Stewart to put it away.
Favre's difficult night ended when he was picked off in the end zone by Chris Harris in the closing minutes.
Minnesota lost for the second time in three games - both road routs on Sunday night - to drop to 4-3 away from home.