After the Patriots improved to 9-3 thanks to their victory over the Vikings, here’s a quick look at some things we learned from Sunday’s win at Gillette Stadium:
1) This was one of the best defensive performances of the season – Despite a couple of big plays by Minnesota, one of the most noticeable aspects of Sunday’s game was the play of New England’s defense, which put up one of their most complete efforts of the year.
The biggest thing that stood out was how fundamentally sound they played and with the amount of energy and tenacity they put forward throughout the contest. It was one of their best performances in getting to the quarterback, with New England’s defense doing a great job of putting pressure on Kirk Cousins. They harassed him the whole game, sacking him twice and hitting him six times, with Lawrence Guy (2 QB hits), Dont’a Hightower (1 QB hit), Trey Flowers (1 Sack), Adam Butler (1 Sack) and Kyle Van Noy (1 QB hit) among players responsible for making Cousins miserable.
Their tackling was probably the best we’ve seen all season, with the two McCourty brothers standing out on a couple of plays. That’s been one of Devin’s strengths since he was drafted, but it was good to see Jason also step up the way he did on Sunday. While the two had a forgettable moment when they let Adam Thielen get away from them on Thielen’s only positive moment of the afternoon when he scored on a 5-yard touchdown, it was just a blip on an otherwise decent day. Overall, Thielen was kept largely in check, finishing with 5 receptions on 10 targets for just 28-yards.
Even their two interceptions were notable, with J.C. Jackson making a terrific play on the ball on a deep attempt from Cousins to Aldrick Robinson, which saw Jackson come in at the last second and get his hand in and deflect the pass, while Duron Harmon was right there and showed tremendous concentration to come down with the football for the turnover. It was a key takeaway, as it happened three plays after Tom Brady was picked off the series before after he threw behind Julian Edelman on a 2nd-and-7 near midfield, which was one possession after the Patriots had scored to go up 24-10.
Had the Vikings gone down and scored, they would have gotten back into the game and potentially grabbed the momentum. Thanks to Jackson and Harmon, that didn’t happen.
The end of the game was also terrific, with Jonathan Jones coming back across the field to track down Cousin’s pass attempt to Thielen, with Jones snatching it out of the air in-stride before high-kneeling his way back up the field and irritating a clearly frustrated Vikings group that saw several players bump him in anger as he went by.
Overall, it’s a positive sign for a team that still has some tough battles ahead of them. More importantly, it’s hopefully a reminder to each member of this group that they can be much better than they’ve been. Hopefully they can build on it Sunday down in Miami.
Sunday was one of Brady’s more impressive performances in recent memory.
2) Aside from the turnover, it was one of Brady’s better efforts – While it wasn’t necessarily perfect, Sunday’s game against Minnesota was one of Brady’s more impressive showings in recent weeks.
Overall, Brady threw for over 300-yards but more importantly he completed 75% of his passes, finishing the afternoon 24-of-32 for 311-yards along with a touchdown. His interception was the only blemish on the stat sheet and it happened when he was under pressure, with Brady throwing just behind Edelman as he was coming across to his right. Vikings linebacker Eric Kendricks made an alert play as he reached up and snatched the ball out of the air and it’s one of those moments that you just have to give the defender credit.
He was sharp on early downs, with Brady hitting on 11-of-12 for 173-yards and a touchdown on first down alone. New England’s ground game gets a lot of the credit for that, with their offensive line playing physical against the Vikings as they accumulated 160-yards on the ground, with Sony Michel (17/63yds 3.7avg), James White (6/26yds 4.3avg) and Rex Burkhead (7/20yds) doing most of the damage.
With New England’s rushing attack enjoying success, it kept Minnesota off balance and Brady took advantage on early downs. Overall, he completed passes to 9 different players as New England’s offense finished the afternoon converting 7-of-14 on 3rd down. He also completed 5-of-6 attempts in the Red Zone, which was key as the offense converted 2-of-3 opportunities in scoring territory. It was also his first 300+ yard performance since the team’s Monday night win over a month ago.
It may not have been a flawless effort, but it was certainly the best we’ve seen from him in a while. With the team set to begin one of the most important stretches in the coming weeks, Brady’s picked a good time to hopefully get hot as the team begins it’s postseason push.
Brady finally reached 1,000 career rushing yards on Sunday.
3) A Historic Milestone for Brady – One of the more enjoyable moments of the game for Brady was his five-yard scamper, which came on the team’s third play of their second offensive series. Facing a 3rd-and-3, the Vikings defense came hard as Brady dropped back, but the veteran QB found a crease to step up in and then noticed an opening and took off, picking up 5-yards before going into a slide across the turf.
As he skidded to a halt, he smiled and signaled first down, with fans at Gillette Stadium erupting when they realized that run put the veteran quarterback at 1000 career rushing yards.
Brady made sure to preserve that at the end of the game, stepping forward on the team’s final kneel down, pointing out to the officials where he was down to ensure he kept his rushing total.
He’s not the most fleet of foot, but after looking back at the film, the way he slid through the defense on that play was pretty impressive for the 41-year old player. Unfortunately, that was the highlight of that drive as the offense stalled three plays later as Brady twice missed on pass attempts to Edelman, resulting in Ryan Allen being forced to punt away the football.
4) Gronkowski still battling – While the hope has been that Rob Gronkowski might get healthy over the final stretch of the season, Sunday was another reminder that this last month may end up being somewhat of a grind for the veteran tight end.
Gronkowski took some shots during Sunday’s game, including one play late in the third quarter where the veteran tight end took off on a post play across the middle and Brady hit him just as Vikings safety Harrison Smith arrived, with Smith drilling Gronkowski in his hip, upending the tight end on what ended up being a 15-yard completion. Gronkowski landed with a thud and then briefly stayed down on one knee, before gingerly getting back up and looking hampered as he returned to the huddle.
He came off the field briefly and then later returned, but after focusing in on the tight end over the next few plays, he was clearly in pain. It seemed to get better as the game wore on, but for a guy who really looks like it’s a battle to be out there, it’s another reminder how important a first-round bye will end up being to this football team if they hope to have Gronkowski be an effective asset in the postseason.
James Develin scored two touchdowns Sunday.
4) Nice to see James Develin involved – When you put the ball in James Develin’s hands, good things seem to happen and the Patriots certainly got him more involved in the offense on Sunday.
The veteran fullback carried the football four times for five yards and two touchdowns, with three of his four carries either moving the chains or resulting in points.
His first carry of the game came on the opening drive, with New England marching down to Minnesota’s 1-yard line after starting at their own 19. After the Vikings bottled up Sony Michel on first down for no gain, Develin pounded his way forward into the end zone on the next play, which put New England up 7-0.
He scored again on New England’s first possession of the fourth quarter after the Patriots started off with great field position thanks to a 23-yard punt return by Julian Edelman.
After New England’s offense made their way down to the 2-yard line, Develin again got in, this time leaping up and into the end zone for the score that essentially sealed the win as it put the Patriots up by two touchdowns at 24-10.
It was a fun moment as Develin is obviously well-liked and was greeted by nearly all of his teammates, with each coming over to congratulate him after he scored.
It was a productive afternoon for the veteran, who once again reminded everyone that he’s quietly a key player in this offense.
5) Gordon slides back into a supporting role – One thing that stood out Sunday was the fact receiver Josh Gordon was once again a supporting cast member to an offense that did a good job spreading around the football.
Gordon had a quiet first half and then just when it seemed like the Vikings may have forgotten about him, he caught three passes on three targets for 58-yards in the final two quarters (all first downs) including a touchdown.
The touchdown was historic for Brady, with that pass ending up as his 579th career touchdown pass (including the postseason), tying Peyton Manning for most all-time. Gordon also previously caught another of Brady’s milestones, hauling in the quarterback’s 500th career regular season touchdown pass against Indianapolis back in October.
The change of focus in Gordon has been huge, and the numbers certainly don’t lie. In the two games heading into the bye week, Brady was just 9-of-22 targeting the veteran receiver with a touchdown. In the last two games, he’s a perfect 8-of-8 with 6 first downs and a touchdown.
But more importantly, his team is 2-0 and playing at a higher level.
As for Gordon, he’s fine with however it goes, whether he’s targeted on every play or not until later in the game. He said after the win his trust is with the coaching staff and he’s clearly happy with the results.
” I didn’t really question the game plan, I just went along with it,” said Gordon. “It seemed to work in our favor, and the coaches, my trust is in the coaches. I think they trust me. So, it worked out for us.”
New England will spend this week getting ready for a trip down to Miami next Sunday to battle the Dolphins, who took care of the Buffalo Bills 21-17 to improve to 6-6 with 4 games to play.