Foxboro - Fans believe in this Pats team. They will not always win in a pretty fashion. There will be ugly moments, but once again the Pats found a way to win in their 24-10 victory over the Vikings Sunday. For the fans who paid to see it, it was not the most entertaining game. The Pats committed costly penalties (seven penalties for 60 yards), could not convert on third and goal from the one in the first half and even the normally reliable Stephen Gostkowski missed a field goal.
In the end, the Pats do what the Pats do best and that is survive to clinch their 18th straight winning season. With the score tied at 10 in the third quarter, Tom Brady hit Josh Gordon on two passes including a touchdown pass to give the Pats a 17-10 lead. The Vikings were decimated in the secondary and the Pats took advantage. On the Pats closing touchdown drive, Josh Gordon drew a pass interference penalty that was questionable and caught another pass in the red zone. James Develin ran for the closing touchdown (his 4th of his career and second of the day) to make the score 24-10.
For a defense that has been fairly criticized this season, it was a good day. The most impressive accomplishment was holding Adam Thielen to five catches for 28 yards. Bill Belichick is a master at taking away an opponent's best weapon. Playing hurt Stefon Diggs, the Vikings speedy wide receiver, had only four catches for 45 yards. The Pats forced Kirk Cousins to complete five passes for 37 yards to unheard of Vikings receiver Aldrick Robinson. The Pats had to be proud of their performance against Thielen who came into the game with 93 catches.
"A lot of times they had guys on both sides of me and there were times they had one guy on me," said Thielen. "In these games there are five or six plays that you could look back upon and I didn't make those plays.“
Thielen joked that the Pats game plan was to take Thielen and Diggs out of the game - asking rhetorically wouldn't that be anyone's game plan. Thielen was impressed with the communication in the Pats secondary.
"They're athletic. They don't make mistakes and leave guys open. To beat a team like that you have to make plays and contested catches," Thielen said. "You have to win the one on one matchups when you get them. They have a different game plan every week. What you see this week is not what you see last week."
Defensively, the Pats secondary played well. The Pats might have found an ideal combination with J.C. Jackson outside and Jason McCourty inside. The fearless Jackson showed he is not afraid to play physical and risk pass interference penalties. With the Pats leading 10-7 in the third quarter, Jackson deflected two Kirk Cousins passes that forced the Vikings to kick a field goal to tie the score at 10. Jason McCourty attributed the ability to respond to the Vikings multiple formations to communication in the secondary.
"I don't think its something we spent more time on this week. It's just an old guy thing. We are always trying to communicate when we are in zone where players are supposed to be," McCourty said. "That's what you gain when you have a bunch of 30 year olds in the secondary. We are always talking and trying to figure out what is going on."
The Pats also emphasized that it was important to prevent Thielen from getting a free release and jam him at the line of scrimmage.
"When you turn on the film - whenever he has space he is an elite route runner. His ability to understand what the defense is doing - when the guy is pressure stepping to the inside and he goes outside. He is a guy you don't want to give space to because he is so crafty in his route and has such a great understanding of what the defense is trying to do. It is nearly impossible to try and cover him without going for the first or second move that he does. Trying to stay as close to him as possible to eliminate whatever my leverage was - eliminate that side of the field was my goal," McCourty said.
Given the Vikings injury situation, Stefon Diggs and Xavier Rhodes (who was not always in the games), few thought the Pats would lose this game. Rhodes was effective against Gordon when he was in the game. The Pats must now find a way to win on the road with two straight road games in Miami and Pittsburgh. Neither team has looked great in recent weeks, but the Pats have been mediocre at best on the road this season with a 3-3 record and losses to three non-playoff teams in the Titans, Jaguars and Lions. The Pats should be able to beat the Dolphins next week. Then again, the Pats lost to Jay Cutler on a Monday Night game in Miami last year. So anything could happen in South Beach.
That said, the team should be excited about a win over a quality opponent.
"I am always happy when we win," Jason McCourty said.
9-3 is not a bad record for a team that some thought was on a downfall earlier this season.