By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston
FOXBORO (CBS) — The Patriots took the field late Sunday afternoon. Then they took care of business.
In a game that was really never in doubt, the Patriots quickly turned 10-10 tie game into a 24-10 lead in a span of just five minutes. That score would hold for the last 10:54 of the fourth quarter to stand as the final score.
It wasn’t a perfect game, but the Patriots seemed to have an excellent plan on both sides of the ball. Kirk Cousins threw for just 201 yards, averaging 4.6 yards per pass attempt, as the Vikings were only able to find the end zone once. Meanwhile the Patriots ran with effectiveness (4.1 yards per carry for 160 yards and two touchdowns) and Tom Brady was able to spread the ball out to nine different receivers.
With the win, the Patriots improved to 9-3. Here are the Ups and Downs from the game.
The world needs more fullback touchdowns. That’s a fact.
Fortunately on Sunday in Foxboro, there was no shortage of fullback touchdowns. James Develin punched it in from the 1-yard line on New England’s opening drive of the game to take a 7-0 lead, and he did the same in the opening minutes of the fourth quarter to put the Patriots ahead by 14 points.
A fullback touchdown is always a thing of beauty. New England gave the world two on Sunday.
Jason McCourty, Stephon Gilmore
Tackling, tackling, tackling. It’s not often valued as a trait of defensive backs. But it proved massively significant for the Patriots’ defense on Sunday.
It was most evident on the Vikings’ drive midway through the fourth quarter, when they were desperately trying to cut into New England’s 14-point lead. On second-and-20, Adam Thielen made a catch and was tackled immediately by Jason McCourty. On third-and-16, Thielen made another catch, and he was again immediately wrapped up by McCourty.
And on fourth-and-11, Laquon Treadwell made a catch over the middle and was immediately brought down with a form tackle by Stephon Gilmore, leading to a turnover on downs. If the corners let the receivers slip on any one of those plays, the whole drive could have changed. But sure tackling sure goes a long way toward getting the ball back to the offense.
McCourty also did a tremendous job on Thielen all game long. Ditto for Gilmore on Diggs.
Brian Flores/The Entire Defense
Finding fault with the Patriots’ defense on this day would require the most excessive nit-picking (we will do just that shortly for the Downs), because the entire defense really had a tremendous performance.
The Vikings gained just 278 total yards and had more turnovers (2) than touchdowns (1). The effort was across the board. Kyle Van Noy made a super-athletic play to tackle Stefon Diggs short of the sticks to force a Minnesota three-and-out on the opening drive. Adam Butler showed off a power swim move en route to an eight-yard sack on a second-and-9, helping to force Dan Bailey into a 48-yard field goal attempt, which he missed. Trey Flowers delivered a third-down sack to force a Minnesota punt, in between the two touchdown drives from New England that put the game out of reach. Duron Harmon came up with an interception almost immediately after Brady threw a pick.
The most explosive and dangerous receiving duo in the NFL — Diggs and Adam Thielen — were held to just 77 combined receiving yards.
The Vikings went a miserable 3-for-12 on third down, and 1-for-2 on fourth down. (And even that fourth-down conversion came via questionable spot.)
This was a spectacular showing for the defense, front to back, start to finish, and any other way you want to put it.
James White/Julian Edelman
Seven receptions for 92 yards. Six caries 26 yards. Just another day at the office for the Patriots’ offensive workhorse.
While those numbers may be inflated slightly by a meaningless 42-yard catch-and-run before halftime, he did pick up four first downs and once again proved worthy of being Tom Brady’s most targeted receiver.
As for Edelman, the 32-year-old continues to just do a little bit of everything for the Patriots.
He broke a 15-yard run on a jet sweep on the Patriots’ opening possession to get the Patriots down to the 1-yard line. They punched it in two plays later. Earlier on that drive, he made a 13-yard reception over the middle on a second-and-15, as part of his three catches for 25 yards. (He would have had more receiving yards, if not for a Gronkowski hold.) And he also broke off a 23-yard punt return, setting up the Patriots for their putaway touchdown early int he fourth. (He had another 22-yard return that came back due to a hold.)
Josh Gordon was not targeted once until the third quarter, when he quickly caught two passes for 48 yards and a touchdown to score what proved to be the winning touchdown. He also drew a 20-yard pass interference penalty on the following possession. … Tom Brady finally reached 1,000 career rushing yards with a five-yard scramble in the first quarter. He finished the game 24-for-32 for 311 yards and one touchdown with one interception. … Rex Burkhead returned to action with 20 rushing yards on seven carries and 21 receiving yards on two receptions.
If the Patriots have had one glaring issue these past two weeks, it would be in the penalty department. As a team, they were flagged seven times for 60 yards against the Vikings, a not-so-great follow-up to last week’s flag-fest in New Jersey.
Bill Belichick said after the game that the team simply needs to be better with regard to the penalties.
“We’re going backwards too many plays, so this is two weeks in a row we just have too many penalties,” Belichick said. “We’ve got to eliminate that. That’s obvious.”
Rob Gronkowski was the worst offender, getting flagged for an early false start as well as two holding penalties. Brandon King was called for holding on a punt return, a penalty which cost the Patriots 32 yards of field position. Son Michel took a false start penalty, and David Andrews and Joe Thuney each were flagged for holding penalties. (Cornerback J.C. Jackson kid of got away with pass interference in the end zone, too.)
Penalties were a major talking point coming out of Week 12’s win, and that’s once again the case after Week 13.
All-world receiver Adam Thielen was kept completely silent for almost the entire first half, right up until the last possible second.
On a first-and-goal from the 5-yard line, both Devin and Jason McCourty ended up in coverage on Thielen, who ran a corner route and had tremendous separation from both twins. He made the over-the-shoulder catch with ease, putting the Vikings on the board and cutting New England’s lead to three points at the break.
The McCourty twins didn’t have a bad game at all. They did have this one bad snap. Belichick didn’t even think it was bad, saying, “We screwed that up. We ran into [Thielen] on the coverage. It wasn’t Jason’s fault. We just didn’t execute the play very well.”
But in a 24-10 win, picking the Downs can require some extra scrutiny.
Josh McDaniels (For One Potentially Critical Play)
A Minnesota challenge took away a Patriots first down and forced New England into a third-and-1 from their own 26-yard line. Josh McDaniels called for the Brady to line up in a shotgun with five receivers spread across the field and an empty backfield. James White motioned into the backfield and took a direct snap on a sweep to the right side.
Vikings cornerback Mackensie Alexander was all over it (and potentially offside), stopping White for no gain and forcing a punt. The Vikings went ahead and drove for a touchdown before halftime on the ensuing drive.
McDaniels is tremendously creative, and when it works out, he looks great. When a play like that fails, the world wonders why a simpler, more direct running play wasn’t called.
McDaniels also helped design a plan that led to the Patriots gaining 471 yards and scoring 24 points against a good defense. So, again, a reminder that this is an exercise in picking nits.
It’s not easy to drill a 48-yard field goal. Still, Stephen Gostkowski’s attempt midway through the third quarter was about as ugly as ugly gets. He missed to the right, and it was clear immediately after his right foot contacted the football that this one would never be close.
That miss came when the Patriots were leading 10-7.
While the miss was bad, it was certainly out of the ordinary. Gostkowski was 19-for-19 on all field goal attempts under 50 yards this season.