By Gregory Hunt
The New England Patriots will look for their first win of the 2014 season when they face the Minnesota Vikings at TCF Bank Stadium Sunday afternoon. It’s the second of three road games the Patriots will play during the month of September. The Patriots currently find themselves in last place in the AFC East, thanks to New England’s 33-20 road loss to the Miami Dolphins and to victories by the Buffalo Bills and New York Jets in Week 1.
The Vikings come into this game with a 1-0 record after defeating the St. Louis Rams at Edward Jones Dome 34-6 in Week 1. Minnesota holds a 4-7 all-time regular season record against the Patriots in a series that dates back to 1970, when the then-Boston Patriots joined the NFL as a part of the AFL/NFL merger. Minnesota won that first match-up 35-14 at Harvard Stadium on December 13, 1970. New England won the last meeting 28-10 at Gillette Stadium on October 31, 2010. The teams have never met in the post season.
Vikings on Offense
Minnesota’s starting quarterback is a familiar face. Matt Cassel was Tom Brady’s backup in New England from 2005-2008, and in that final season he started 15 games after Brady suffered a knee injury in Week 1 and missed the remainder of the season. After that season, Cassel was traded to Kansas City where he spent the next four seasons starting 47 games for the Chiefs before signing with Minnesota as a free agent in 2013. In Cassel’s first season with Minnesota, he started six games in relief of an injured Christian Ponder, but this year he won the starting job outright over Ponder and rookie Teddy Bridgewater.
But regardless of who starts at quarterback, Minnesota’s offense begins with running back Adrian Peterson, who is the third fastest player to reach 10,000 yards rushing in NFL history. In 2012, he came back from a torn ACL and MCL the previous season to come within nine yards of breaking Eric Dickerson’s single-season rushing record of 2,105.
In last week’s victory over St. Louis, both Cassel and Peterson had pedestrian games. Cassel stuck with the short passing game, completing 17 of 25 throws for a mere 170 yards and two touchdowns, while Peterson gave a modest 75 yards on 21 carries. Cassel’s top target was wide receiver Greg Jennings, who caught six passes for 58 yards and one touchdown.
Vikings on Defense
The Vikings defense dominated the Rams in week 1, but much of that had to do with the absence of St. Louis stating quarterback Sam Bradford, who will miss the entire regular season thanks to an ACL tear he suffered in the preseason. Furthermore, Rams backup quarterback Shaun Hill left the game at halftime with injuries, so he was replaced by third string QB Austin Davis, who has never thrown a regular season pass in the NFL before. Davis did throw for 192 yards in the second half, but he also threw an interception to Vikings safety Harrison Smith, who returned the ball 81 yards for a touchdown.
The Vikings were ranked 31st in total defense last year when they gave up 397.6 yards per game. That’s one of the reasons the team fired head coach Leslie Frazier and replaced him with Mike Zimmer, who had spent the previous six seasons as the defensive coordinator for the Cincinnati Bengals. Zimmer ditched Frazier’s conservative Tampa-2 defensive for a more aggressive system. The Vikings made five sacks against St. Louis in Week 1.
New England should have a much easier time moving the ball against Minnesota than it did against Miami. However, it remains to be seen if the New England defense can stop the run — it couldn’t stop Miami’s Knowshon Moreno, and Peterson is a much more talented back. To come out of this game with a victory, cornerback Darrelle Revis and the rest of the defensive secondary will need to lock down the Minnesota receivers and allow the front seven to stack the line of scrimmage against Peterson.
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Gregory Hunt is a Boston native and a life-long fan of the Patriots, Red Sox, Bruins and Celtics. He’s also particularly fond of lacrosse, IndyCar racing and women’s college basketball. He currently works for Examiner.com where he serves as the Senior Manager of Content and Media Access. He also writes for Examiner.com as the New England Patriots Examiner. His work can be found on Examiner.com.