October 31, 2006
Vikings Hit With Brady Air Blitzkrieg
BY: Bob George/BosSports.net
MINNEAPOLIS -- Why run the ball when you don't have to?
The first Patriot running play went for minus-7 yards. The second pass play for the Patriots went for 45 yards. That's pretty much how things went Monday night at the Metrodome in Minneapolis. Stretch all that over sixty minutes, and you have a 31-7 Patriot victory over the Minnesota Vikings. The 6-1 Patriots now head into their Sunday night showdown next week against Indianapolis flying as high as they have all season long.
Tom Brady had one of those nights where you sit back and relish the thought that he throws footballs for your favorite team. Except for one foolish first quarter pass which was picked off by Jamie Sharper, Brady had one of his best statistical games ever. He tied his career high for passing yards in a regulation game, threw four touchdown passes to four different receivers, and made it look ridiculously easy at times.
Part of the "ridiculously easy" belongs to Bill Belichick. He and Brady showed a national television audience why they are both at the top of their professions. Belichick completely killed Brad Childress in the coaching department, rendering the league's best rushing defense totally helpless. Dean Pees didn't do badly either, as the defense pitched a shutout against a pretty decent Vikings offense and forced Brad Johnson into some mistakes which made him look woefully inadequate out there at times.
It was like another previous Monday night appearance for the Patriots, the Gillette Stadium debut game in 2002, when the Patriots passed the Steelers to death. On the first drive of the game, the Patriots passed eight yards to Ben Watson, gave all of it back on a left end run by Corey Dillon which went very bad, and then Brady hit Doug Gabriel on a deep slant pattern for 45 yards. Gabriel then ran another slant pattern on the next play and caught one for 16 yards, Troy Brown caught a quick screen for five, Watson took a lob over the middle for 14, and Reche Caldwell finished it off with a nice six-yard touchdown catch in the right corner of the end zone. Brady was six for six on the drive, and because of the rushing loss by Dillon, wound up with more passing yards than the total yardage on the drive.
As stated, this drive pretty much set the tone for the entire game. Brady would play pitch and catch with both Watson and Caldwell all game long. Each had seven catches, with Watson covering 95 yards and Caldwell 84. Gabriel added five catches for 83 yards.
Brady had to work a silent snap count practically the whole game, as dictated by the noisy Metrodome crowd. He also worked out of the gun quite a bit, and several times in five-wide patters which spread out the Vikings' defense. This enabled Brady to literally pick apart the Vikings at will, and completely neutralize their stout run defense. One other thing that helped was that most of the time, the offensive line, even minus Stephen Neal, gave Brady lots of time to throw for most of the evening, and Brady was lethal in that scenario.
The Vikings had won three games this year when trailing at halftime. With the Patriots up 17-0 in the third quarter, the Patriots went three and out on their first possession of the second half and punted. Mewelde Moore took the punt at the 29 and raced up the right sideline 71 yards to make it 17-7. It brought the loud crowd to life, and seemed to signal another second half rally by the Vikings.
So how did the Patriots respond? In what will serve the Patriots well in the upcoming home tilts with the Colts and the Bears (combined 14-0 right now), the Patriots looked the Vikings in the face and said "Go ahead, give me your best shot! Then it's my turn!" Laurence Maroney, returning to his home college field, took the ensuing kickoff and rambled 77 yards to the Viking 21. Three plays later, Brown hauled in a seven-yard scoring pass to make it 24-7 and pretty much put anything Viking to sleep.
Offensively, the Vikings never got going, and Johnson had a bad evening pretty much throughout. Johnson, who won a Super Bowl title four years ago with Tampa Bay, was intercepted three times and finished with a rating of only 38.1. His first interception was his worst pass of the evening, at the end of the first quarter. On third and goal at the Patriot five, he was under pressure and threw a water balloon into the end zone which Rodney Harrison easily picked off at the goal line. No Viking was anywhere near where the pass went, and it was as easy an interception as you could make.
Oh, and remember Chester Taylor, he of the 95-yard run last week against Seattle? He had 22 yards on 10 carries. No Viking rusher gained more than nine yards on any one carry. The Patriots, meanwhile, were only able to gain 85 total team rushing yards, but at a 5.7 yard per carry average (both of those stats are skewed by a 35-yard fourth quarter gallop by, of all people, Heath Evans, just to be fair).
And for a nice coup de grace, the Patriots had an interesting defensive series in the fourth quarter. Brooks Bollinger came in to relieve Johnson at quarterback on the second offensive possession of the fourth quarter. On first down at midfield, Jarvis Green sacked Bollinger for nine yards. On second down, Tully Banta-Cain sacked Bollinger for nine more yards. On third down, Richard Seymour sacked Bollinger for two more yards. Three plays, three sacks. It was fourth and 30 at the Vikings 30 by the time the Patriots were done with the Viking backup quarterback.
This kind of game is what makes teams like Indianapolis and Chicago quiver, though the Patriots will do a lot of quivering of their own. Looking at how the Patriots attacked the Vikings, it's as if the Patriots knew exactly what was coming at every turn, and at the same time knew the very style of play to dictate on their own. The Patriots went after the Vikings offensively with both efficiency and tenacity in the passing game, literally paying the vaunted run defense no heed. It was like the Patriots basically telling the Vikings that they were going to pass them to death, and there was nothing they could do about it. Then they simply went out and did it.
And the numbers bear it out: The Patriots had 430 total yards of offense, 345 of it through the air. Brady's 372 yards passing matched his best ever in a non-overtime game (he was 29 of 43 passing and a 115.6 rating despite the one pick). Brady completed passes to ten different receivers overall, another Brady trademark.
So, if the Patriots can score 31 on the best rushing defense in the NFL, what must the Colts be thinking right now, after giving up that many to Denver on Sunday? Peyton Manning must be hoping that his side can score 32, and he rang up 40 on a Patriot defense in his last visit to Foxborough. The Patriots will bring a better defense to the table than they did in the 40-21 loss last year to the Colts, also on a Monday night.
At least the Patriots go into the annual Colt battle as buoyant as they can be. Dismantling a good team on the road in a loud home environment is no small thing. This kind of confidence will be sorely needed next week at home.
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