Some thoughts on this Friday:
1) For a team that prides itself on special teams, especially given what happened just a few days ago, Thursday night’s breakdown out in Minnesota is one that was definitely surprising for Bill Belichick’s Patriots.
After opening the third quarter with an 8-play, 75-yard drive that ended with a 37-yard touchdown to Hunter Henry, the Vikings made the play of the night.
With Nick Folk handling the kickoff duties while Jake Bailey remains on injured reserve, he hung the ball up in the air and seemingly had Vikings running back Kene Nwangwu pinned in the corner after he caught the ball at the Patriots’ five-yard line near Minnesota’s sideline. But with Brendon Schooler coming in from his right, Nwangwu went away from him and slipped past a diving Matthew Slater near the sideline and blew past Kyle Dugger, who replays showed was held by fullback C.J. Ham.
Nwangwu then accelerated past New England’s remaining defenders and he was off to the races, with Slater – who had gotten back up and gone after him – and linebacker Mack Wilson as the last two guys in pursuit but couldn’t catch up to him before he reached the end zone.
The result was a 97-yard touchdown return that negated the Patriots’ brief 23-16 lead and also gave the Vikings some momentum after it looked like New England might take control of the game.
Belichick was frustrated after this one, with reasons that extended far beyond that kickoff return.
“Yeah, really is the difference in the game,” said Belichick after the game. “Seven points that ended up being bonus points in the game.”
2) What’s frustrating about that play was that it spoiled how well they played offensively. Mac Jones had one of the best games of his young career after he finished with a career-high 382-yards passing while completing 28-of-39 (71.8%), along with two touchdown passes.
He got off to a great start, hitting Jakobi Meyers with a terrific 26-yard throw on their first play from scrimmage, which got them out near midfield. Three plays later, he hit Nelson Agholor on a 34-yard strike for their first touchdown of the night to put them up 7-0, and it felt like New England might be off and running.
But penalties and negative plays still plagued them. It started early after Patriots cornerback Jonathan Jones picked off Kirk Cousins late in the first quarter, returning it 55-yards while giving the Patriots the football at the Vikings’ 17-yard line.
Facing a 2nd-and-7, Matt Patricia called an end-around to Kendrick Bourne, who never really got going and was dropped for a 7-yard loss. That left them with a 3rd-and-14, with Jones facing pressure and having to settle on a 5-yard pass to Agholor, and it led to just a 34-yard field goal by Folk.
However, the officiating ultimately was the story of the night, and it had Belichick fuming by the time it was over. There were facemasks, blocks in the back, holding, and pass interference penalties that weren’t called, along with one key play that ended up being costly in this one.
Following Nwangwu’s return for a touchdown, the Patriots came right back and answered with a drive that included a terrific 40-yard strike on a perfectly thrown ball from Jones to DeVante Parker that put them at the Vikings’ 7yd line.
Three plays later, Jones fired a strike to Hunter Henry on a 3rd-and-6 that Henry caught at the goal line and reached across for what appeared to be a touchdown, before pulling it back and then being taken to the ground by Chandon Sullivan.
But for whatever reason, the call was overturned after the officials ruled that Henry didn’t maintain control all the way to the ground, despite the fact the replay showed his hand remained under the ball as he hit the turf.
That ended up being brutal because they again had to settle for a field goal, which put them up by just three points at 26-23.
Overall, that entire crew made this one difficult to watch, and Belichick was also less than pleased after it was over.
“Why don’t you guys go to the officials with your pool reporter and ask them about the play and let them explain it to you,” Belichick quipped when asked about Henry’s touchdown being overturned. “Isn’t that what you do? Thank you.”
Henry’s negated touchdown was frustrating. (PHOTO: Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports)
3) The stat sheet will show that the Patriots were 0-for-3 in the red zone, but the numbers don’t exactly tell the entire story.
Between Bourne getting dropped for the earlier-mentioned loss and the negated touchdown throw to Henry, it was really one of the better efforts we’ve seen in a while.
The other trip came at the end of the first half after Jones went to the two-minute offense with 1:30 left to go in the half.
He hit Henry for a 22-yard throw to get them out to midfield and followed that up with back-to-back throws to Parker of 16 and 14 yards that got them down to the Vikings’ 30-yard line.
Jones’s one miscue was a sack he took after he was under pressure and stepped up in the pocket, and instead of throwing the ball away and preserving their timeout, Jones gave himself up back at the original line of scrimmage. That left them forced to burn the timeout, which had Belichick fuming on the sideline.
But the second-year QB came right back and hit Agholor for a 13-yard pass to get them down to the Vikings’ 5yd line, where he spiked the ball, leaving 0:08 on the clock.
He then threw a pretty good fade to Kendrick Bourne in the corner of the end zone, but defensive back Duke Shelling never turned around and had his hands all over Bourne, who couldn’t quite haul in the throw.
Unfortunately, no penalty was called and it ultimately forced them to settle for the field goal.
Still, this was the first game in quite a while where it felt like they were a little more in control in the red area, which was one of the first real solid steps forward we’ve seen all season.
The offensive line gave Jones plenty of time Thursday night. (PHOTO: Matt Krohn-USA TODAY Sports
4) One of the biggest surprises of Thursday night came from the offensive line, which really did a terrific job.
They gave Jones time to work the entire game, which was one of the big reasons he ended up with such a productive night throwing the football.
He was sacked just three times, two of which came during each of their final two drives where they were in desperation mode and the Vikings’ defense was coming in hard, including one play where Trent Brown just couldn’t quite get back fast enough and tried to cut the defender, but to no avail.
But overall, Jones ended up with a pretty clean pocket for most of the contest, which, considering both David Andrews and Isaiah Wynn were out, gave them a big lift.
“They did a great job,” said Jones after the game. “All those guys just doing their job on every play, and I didn’t feel pressure at all hardly, and just hats off to them for playing a great game in the run game, too.”
“They did a great job. If we can just continue to do that, then I think a lot of things will go our way.”
Jefferson was tough to stop on Thursday night (PHOTO: Matt Krohn-USA TODAY Sports)
5) On the defensive side of the ball, this was certainly one of the more frustrating nights considering how things played out.
Matthew Judon and company had a tough time getting pressure on Kirk Cousins, often because the ball was out before they had a chance to get to him.
Cousins overall missed just seven throws all night, finishing 30-of-37 for 299-yards with 3 touchdowns and one interception. But he had an impressive second half where he completed 13-of-16 (81.3%) for 118-yards along with a touchdown.
Wide receiver Justin Jefferson proved to be just absolutely brutal to try and deal with, as there were multiple plays where the Patriots had more than one player on him and he still somehow was able to come up with the football.
Jefferson ended up with a big night, finishing with 9 receptions for 139-yards along with a touchdown.
The other issue was the Vikings did a good job of getting the ball to other receivers who were left open thanks to the attention Jefferson was attracting, which ultimately saw quite a few drives extended and it left them pretty gassed by the end of this one.
Minnesota’s offense was on the field for nearly 40-minutes, holding the football for 36:17 while converting 8-of-15 on third down.
Third down is where Cousins did most of his damage. He finished 9-of-13 (69.2%) for 110-yards including 2 touchdowns and his lone interception.
That’s, well, less than ideal.
“Cousins was tough,” said Belichick after the game. “They made a lot of good plays, throws, checks. He’s a good player. Disappointing to come up a little bit short, but we just had too many mistakes they took advantage of, and that really is the difference in a game.”
6) On a positive note, one other thing that stood out was the fact the Patriots did a good job spreading the ball around, with five players finishing the night with over sixty yards receiving.
Stevenson led the way with nine receptions for 76-yards, with Agholor (6 catches, 65yds 1TD), Parker (4 catches, 80yds), Henry (3 catches, 63yds 1TD) and Meyers (3 catches, 62yds) rounding things out from there.
Jones talked a little bit after the game about the fact that one of the positives with this offense is that he essentially just goes wherever the plays take him, which tends to create different opportunities for players on each possession.
Fortunately, it ended up being a productive night for quite a few guys, even though the final result didn’t quite go their way.
“I don’t ever try and single in on anybody. Just wherever the play takes me, that’s where I’m throwing it,” said Jones. “I think that’s what’s cool about this offense is you don’t know when it’s going to come to you, but it can come to you on any play. Kind of cool there.”
“Obviously need to score more points to kind of put us ahead and do things better, but I think, like I said, there’s no time to kind of frown upon. Just got to watch the tape. That’s what it comes down to, and build on the things that we did well and correct the things we haven’t, just like we’ve done in the past all the games that we’ve played in.”
The Patriots won’t have a lot of time to lick their wounds from this one. The one positive coming off of this loss is the fact they’ll be forced to turn the page pretty quickly with the Buffalo Bills set to visit Gillette Stadium in what will be their second-straight Thursday night game.
Jones knows they’ll have to play better next week as they look to put this one behind them, and this loss just made next week’s match-up even that much more important.
“It’s a huge game,” said Jones. “I think Buffalo is the top, top team in the league. Obviously, they’re playing really well when you watch crossover film and things like that. Just a great team.”
“We have to be able to play better to win. We know the challenge ahead.”
Posted Under: 2022 Patriots Season
Tags: 2022 Patriots Season Patriots vs Vikings