Sep 14, 2014; Minneapolis, MN, USA; New England Patriots cornerbackDarrelle Revis
(24) intercepts a pass during the second quarter against the Minnesota Vikings at TCF Bank Stadium. at TCF Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports
The New England Patriots caught a break in week two as they went to TCF Bank Stadium to face the Minnesota Vikings without All Pro running back Adrian Peterson. Peterson is missing the game after being indicted on child abuse charges after allegedly striking his four-year-old son repeatedly with a branch After not losing a season opener in the past decade, the Patriots fell to the Dolphins in Miami last week 33-20. The Vikings came into their home opener on the heels of a dominating 34-6 road victory over the St. Louis Rams.
The Patriots were without starting cornerback Alfonzo Dennard (shoulder) and linebacker Jamie Collins (thigh) on defense and with center Ryan Wendell (knee) missing due to injury on offense. Wide receiver Aaron Dobson was active against Minnesota after missing the game last week and fellow second-year receiver Kenbrell Thompkins was inactive. The other inactives were rookie running back James White and rookie defensive end Zach Moore and second-year end Michael Buchanan.
In a “throw-back” victory for the Patriots, turnovers created by the defense, a strong running game, and efficient passing led to a New England win 30-7 over the Vikings. The Patriots added consistent play on special teams and a big play to swing the game their way. Rather than the New England teams of the last five or six seasons, this game showed a Patriots team that had a solid game plan, controlled the line of scrimmage, and rode a strong defense to victory.
After being shut-out in the first half of the game, the Patriots opened the second half with quarterback Tom Brady finding Rob Gronkowski for his first reception of the game. Unlike last week against Miami the Patriots stayed with the running game as running back Stevan Ridley continued to get carries and run hard. The first drive of the second half ended with New England wide receiver Julian Edelman missing a big play by his fingertips as Brady’s long pass was just beyond his diving attempt.
New England was back in the 4-3 opening the second half as they switched out of the 3-4 at last in the first half. Moving Rob Ninkovich and Chandler Jones back to defensive end with Vince Wilfork and rotating cast next to him. Interception number three for Minnesota quarterback Matt Cassel came on the Vikings’ first drive of the second half as Cassel threw slightly behind Cordarrelle Patterson and cornerback Logan Ryan stepped in front to grab it. The Vikings’ offensive line had stoned the four-man rush by New England from their nickel package.
New England seems determined to make the 3-4 defense part of the game plan and get back to showing multiple fronts to the opposing offenses. Having defensive tackle Chris Jones back to health gives the Patriots a pair of penetrating interior pass rushers with him and rookie Dominique Easley. As Sealver Siliga gets back to health and is able to spell Vince Wilfork it gives New England the run-stuffing and pass-rushing balance in the middle that should allow them to mix-and-match inside and help replace the overmatched Joe Vellano inside.
After a 47-yard field goal by Stephen Gostkowski made it 27-7, Dont’a Hightower made his presence felt as the outside linebacker was lined up at Chandler Jones’ right defensive end spot with Jones kicked inside and special teams player Nate Ebner blitzing from the other side. Rookie Dominique Easley was at the nose with Rob Ninkovich at left defensive end in the hybrid look up front in the dime defense look.
Sep 14, 2014; Minneapolis, MN, USA; New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady (12) calls a play during the second quarter against the Minnesota Vikings at TCF Bank Stadium. at TCF Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports
Brandon LaFell was invisible in the first half but he found his way onto the field for the second series of the second half. Shane Vereen was also in the backfield that series giving Ridley a break. Edelman made an impact in the second half with a 28-yard punt return to set-up the drive, a reception, and drawing two pass interference penalties as the Patriots ran out the third quarter with a penalty-filled 14 play drive. It ended with a 27-yard field goal by Gostkowski.
New England got the ball back after Greg Jennings had an uncharacteristic drop the one time he worked his way free from Darrelle Revis. Edelman juked his way 34 yards on the return to set-up the Patriots deep in Minnesota territory. Unfortunately, the offensive line gave up their first sack of the game and New England had to punt. The Patriots had seemed ready to go deep on first down but the play never developed on the play action. Ridley was open underneath with no one around as the receivers cleared out space. Brady did not seem to see him as his eyes were downfield and the sack came from the defender diving low at Brady’s feet.
By the time the teams traded field goals, the Patriots were up 30-7 and the Patriots showcased a corner blitz by Kyle Arrington with a forced fumble and rookie first round pick Easley showing his athleticism with a diving interception on a tipped pass. That was Cassel’s fourth interception of the game and more of an expected showing by the new and improved Patriots secondary. Young players Josh Kline, Bryan Stork, and sixth offensive lineman Cameron Fleming got some playing time as they were out blocking in the fourth quarter.
On defense rookie cornerback Darius Butler got some valuable work and Rob Ninkovich got to work on some pass rushing on the final drive of the game. Ninkovich got some pressure late and picked up a sack. The younger players were on the field with a mix of veterans as the defense kept Minnesota blanked after their initial scoring drive.
LaFell was hardly seen on offense in the passing game and tight end Tim Wright was another player hurt in the statsheet by the New England reliance on the running game. A strong game by Ridley got the play-action passing game going with some strong running. The Patriots had a throwback performance as they created turnovers on defense and ran the ball and used the timely passing game to convert and extend drives. Last seen a decade ago, one week after looking like a last-place team, New England looked like the Patriots of old on the road against Minnesota.
Initially the Patriots opened the game in the 3-4 defense which was exploited immediately by the Vikings as they worked tight end Kyle Rudolph and Rhett Ellison on safety Patrick Chung and rookie linebacker Deontae Skinner and the other linebackers on the first drive of the game. Cordarrelle Patterson and Greg Jennings were invisible as quarterback Matt Cassel drove the Vikings 80 yards on the initial drive finding fill-in running back Matt Asiata out of the backfield for 25 yards and a touchdown.
Cassel never looked downfield the first drive as short passes resulted in big gains. Deontae Skinner had a giant target on his back as the rookie was targeted early. The Patriots moved 4-3 defensive end Ninkovich inside to 3-4 end while sliding Jones back to outside linebacker to take advantage of his ability in space.
The defense was exploited on the first drive as the Patriots continued to give up big plays in the middle of the field but got a measure of revenge on the second drive. After a three-and-out to open the game by the Patriots offense, Minnesota continued to run up the middle early in the game but when Minnesota finally threw deep they attempted to throw deep on Kyle Arrington and Devin McCourty was able to pick off the pass intended for Jarius Wright and return it 60 yards to the Minnesota one yard line. Patterson was running a go route on the right sideline the at the same time as Wright from the left side, but Patriots’ cornerback Darrelle Revis was step-for-step with Greg Jennings causing Cassel to look away from his initial read and take his shot on the other side of the field.
After Stevan Ridley pounded the ball in from a yard out to tie the game, the Patriots’ defense was back on the field for the third time in the first quarter. The defense held for the Patriots as they forced a three-and-out. The Patriots took a 10-7 lead as the offense began to pound the Minnesota front seven after a short pass to Dobson to open the drive. Big formations, multiple tight ends, and short passing off play action behind runs up the middle and end-arounds had New England driving before a Marcus Cannon holding penalty stalled the momentum and Gostkowski nailed a 48-yard field goal.
Darrelle Revis ended the first drive by Minnesota of the second quarter with an interception after his blanket coverage of Greg Jennings had Revis looking to be running the route with Jennings in coverage. The Edelman show took center stage as a 44-yard catch-and-run on third-and-fourteen. He followed with a tough six-yard reception on third-and-four and then burned free agent signee Captain Munnerlyn for a nine-yard touchdown. Edelman sold the slant route and then turned Munnerlyn inside out as he broke to the corner for the easy reception in the end zone.
After trading punts, the Vikings went back to what worked on the first drive in their two minute offense: short passes in space. A short pass was turned into a 26-yard gain with some great moves by the dynamic Patterson getting the ball in space. Patterson almost connected on third-and-sixteen down the left sideline as cornerback Logan Ryan let him go and fellow Rutgers alum Duron Harmon was late to recover. Patterson could not get his second foot down in bounds.
It was a huge play as defensive end Chandler Jones stormed across the line to block kicker Blair Walsh’s 48-yard field goal attempt. Jones picked up his block and motored 70-yards downfield to swing a potential lead cut to a touchdown at halftime to instead a 24-7 Patriots lead going into the break.
Throughout the first half the Patriots got some pressure on Cassel on occasion, but not consistently. Tight end Rob Gronkowski was used sparingly and shut out on the statsheet in the first half, but tackle Cameron Fleming was on the field for a number of plays as the sixth offensive lineman and setting up the running game. Julian Edelman was the leading receiver in the first half again, but this time quarterback Tom Brady was on target as he completed 9 of 10 for 105 yards and a touchdown.
Minnesota was held to 41 yards rushing on 15 attempts in the first half. Patterson was held to three receptions for 39 yards by Ryan. Revis shut out Jennings in the first half and had one of the two interceptions in the first two quarters. Jennings also had a costly offensive pass interference penalty right before the half pushing Minnesota back. Jones had the only sack in the first half to go with his blocked kick and touchdown return.