FOXBOROUGH, Mass. –- The New England are where they usually are at this stage of the season with a 9-3 record and in control of the AFC East. In Minnesota, there is concern.
The Patriots don’t always win in pretty fashion. There will be ugly moments, but once again they found a way to win Sunday, 24-10 over the Minnesota Vikings.
The Patriots did what they do best and that is survive to clinch their 18th straight winning season. With the score tied at 10 in the third quarter, quarterback Tom Brady hit wide receiver Josh Gordon on two passes including one for a touchdown to provide a 17-10 lead.
The Vikings were decimated in the secondary and the Patriots took advantage.
On the closing touchdown drive, Gordon drew a pass interference penalty and caught another pass in the red zone. Fullback James Develin ran for the closing touchdown (his fourth of his career and second of the day) to make the score 24-10.
The Vikings fell to 6-5-1 with the loss, but remained a game and a half behind Chicago in the NFL North thanks to the Bears’ 30-27 loss to the New York Giants in overtime.
The Bears and Vikings play on the final Sunday of the season, so Minnesota will have to gain at least a game in the next three weeks in order for the season finale to give them a chance to win the division with a victory.
Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins said, “I’ve never really gotten too caught up in what’s going on around us because we know that ultimately it’s about what we do and if you win games, you put yourself in a position. I know it’s important that we just get in. I’d love a home playoff game but if we can get in, anything can happen. That’s really where my focus is, is just put ourselves in a position at the end of the 16 games to be in and then it’s a fresh start and you hit the reset button and then you go from there. So we’ve just got to obviously get to Week 17, the 16th game and have won enough to be in.”
Develin's earlier touchdown occurred in the first quarter to make the score 7-0. The Patriots led 10-0 before the Vikings tied the score at 10 in the third quarter.
For a defense that has been criticized at times 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 weapon.
Playing hurt, Stefon Diggs, the Vikings speedy wide receiver, had only four catches for 45 yards. The Patriots forced Kirk Cousins to complete five passes for 37 yards to little-utilized receiver Aldrick Robinson.
"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 said that New England’s game plan was to take him and Diggs out of the game. Thielen was impressed with the communication in their 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."
The Patriots worked hard at not allowing Thielen to get a free release and find openings in the defense.
Said New England safety Devin McCourty. "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 routes 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.”
The reality is that teams don’t win many games in the NFL scoring just 10 points, and certainly not on the road against New England.
Said head coach Mike Zimmer, “I thought they played aggressive tonight. I thought they did a good job of mixing up what they were doing defensively and changing to a lot of different things. A lot of guys standing up and coming from different areas and so I thought they did a nice job of trying to confuse us.”