Five Takeaways: Pats defense bottles up Vikings in 2nd half


FOXBORO -- Here are five quick-hitting takeaways from what transpired between the Patriots and Vikings on Sunday...


Third-down. Red zone. Two-minute. All were issues that the Patriots offense tried to address during their bye. All popped up -- and not in good ways -- in the first half against the Vikings. They couldn't convert a third-and-short late in the second quarter when they tried a direct snap to James White.  After punting it away with about two minutes left, the Patriots allowed the Vikings to drive the field on seven plays and score. They went 1-for-2 in the red zone in the first half, stalling near the goal line when Brady couldn't connect with Edelman on a pick play involving Rob Gronkowski. 

The Patriots dominated time of possession in the first half but they still have their issues when it comes to what Bill Belichick calls "situational football." (You could add penalties to the mix here as well. The Patriots shot themselves in the foot twice with holding penalties on their second drive of the second half. Stephen Gostkowski ended the series with a miss from 48 yards out.)


It's not that Josh Gordon wasn't active or on the field. He played quite a bit as one of the team's top-two receivers along with Julian Edelman. But he wasn't targeted through almost three quarters of football. You might be able to chalk that up to a bad matchup on any other night. But the Vikings top-three corners were all injured. 

Xavier Rhodes came in with a hamstring issue that limited him Sunday. Trae Waynes was ruled out with a concussion early. Mike Hughes, the team's first-round pick this year, tore his ACL back in October. In theory, this should've been a big night for Gordon. Instead, the Patriots stuck with a short passing game that featured a heavy dose of White (nine targets) and Julian Edelman (six). Chris Hogan and Cordarrelle Patterson had two more targets than Gordon through 43:40. 

That's when Brady hit Gordon for a 24-yard pitch-and-catch that got the team's third second-half drive started. Three plays later, Brady hit Gordon again for 24 yards and a touchdown. What a welcome to the stat sheet.


The Patriots have had their hands full with running backs in the passing game all season, and they've faced few athletes at that position as explosive as Dalvin Cook. With Stefon Diggs dealing with a knee injury, and with the Patriots frequently devoting multiple bodies in coverage to Adam Thielen, Cook had an opportunity to be Kirk Cousins' go-to guy. And he was. He saw eight targets through three quarters, catching six. But he picked up just 14 yards on those plays for a whopping 1.75 yards per target. It took a village for the Patriots. Linebackers got Cook occasionally, including notably effective snaps in coverage by Kyle Van Noy and Elandon Roberts. But Patriots safeties -- in particular Devin McCourty and Duron Harmon -- did well to bottle up Cook near the line. It'll be interesting to see if the Patriots turn to their more athletic safeties more frequently against backs moving forward, particularly on third down.


The Vikings are typically the defense known for mugging at the line of scrimmage, walking linebackers up over either side of the center to disrupt communication at the line. But the Patriots were just as -- if not more -- creative on Sunday with how they used their front. They mugged and ran a game with Kyle Van Noy, who put a clean hit on Kirk Cousins to force a third-down incompletion. The Patriots ran a game later with Trey Flowers that resulted in a third-down sack. They also ran a third-down front with Flowers as the lone defensive lineman on the nose. Safeties and linebackers mulled behind Flowers, disguising their intentions to rush or drop until the ball was snapped. It wasn't quite the zero-man front the Titans ran a few weeks ago against New England but it was close.


Outside of a shouting match with Belichick following a Patriots challenge, Adam Thielen was largely kept quiet Sunday. The Patriots threw a variety of matchups his way. They played zone. They doubled him in the red zone and on third down. He saw Stephon Gilmore and JC Jackson at points. It was Jason McCourty, though, who was in his area most frequently. And even though McCourty didn't hold him catch-less, he was on Thielen quickly and held him to very few yards after the catch. On a critical drive in the fourth quarter, on second and third-and-long snaps back-to-back, Cousins targeted Thielen with McCourty on him. McCourty held him to nine yards total and Gilmore ended the drive by allowing just a short gain on a slant to Laquon Treadwell. Thielen finished with five catches for 28 yards and a touchdown when he was able to shake free of Jason and Devin McCourty's double-coverage in the end zone when Gilmore and Jason McCourty nearly collided thanks to a traffic-causing route combination by the Vikings.

Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the Celtics easily on your device.


Contact Us