After the Dolphins had crushed their division rival in dramatic fashion last week, the doomsayers were out in full force. And yes, the final score hardly indicated how poorly New England played . Yet, much like they always do, the Patriots rebounded. Their victory over the Vikings was an uplifting win for a team that hadn’t started 0-2 since Belichick’s first season with the club back in 2000.
This week all three units played more cohesively. Danny Aiken actually snapped the ball to Ryan Allen. The offensive line actually blocked somebody, and the defense actually learned how to tackle. Now that I think about it, it’s the type of game that will motivate me to get through this week.
While the Patriots’ offense put up eerily similar figures as they had last week, they actually played a much more complete game. The offensive line molded into a reliable force and their running backs played tough throughout. Sure, Brady wasn’t pleased because his unit stalled on a number of occasions, but when are the Patriots ever happy with a win? Right. Like never.
By half time, the offense turned three defensive turnovers into 21 points and increased their lead to 17 in part from some hard running by Steven Ridley. He’s a player on the rise after offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels used him sparingly against the Dolphins. This week the Patriots went big and stayed big. For 14 of 27 total first-half snaps, they used Cameron Fleming, an extra offensive lineman, as an eligible receiver and extra blocking tight end. Ridley also played in 14 of those 27 snaps, which clearly indicated the Patriots’ commitment to control the line of scrimmage. Against the Dolphins, they totaled a mere 89 yards rushing, but by the end of the third quarter this week, Ridley had racked up 86 yards alone.
It wasn’t a historically dominating performance–they only converted 29 percent of third downs–but the offense also didn’t lose the game. Didn’t we expect the defense to be the team’s ace of spades anyway? Which brings me to our next point….
The offense scored most of the points, but the defense and special teams really attained this victory. The defense completely dominated up front, sacking Cassel six times and forcing him to throw four interceptions. They also held the Vikings’ depleted rushing assault to 54 total yards and 2.8 yards per carry. An overlooked aspect of the defenses’ performance might end up being their ability to run after the catch–a statistic often reserved for offense. After he picked off Cassel, safety Devin McCourty came up a yard short of scoring, and cornerback Logan Ryan had a nice interception return, but it was negated because of a penalty.
Many felt concerned about the Patriots’ ability to hold the Vikings’ running game and basically receiver Cordarrelle Patterson in check. With Adrian Peterson deactivated, the Patriots shifted their focus elsewhere. Defensive end Chandler Jones played on the edge and Rob Ninkovich contributed a full game, which produced spectacular results. The unit played with more discipline, closing off running lanes and pressuring Cassel into poor decisions.
Special Teams Snapshot
Clearly the Patriots’ special teams stepped up. Punter Ryan Allen helped the Patriots win the battle of field position by keeping the ball inside the opponent’s 20-yard line on four of his five punts. After those punts, the Vikings, on average, started drives from their 13-yard line.
The special team’s most significant play came prior to half time, and shifted the game’s momentum into New England’s favor. With the Vikings challenging to cut the Patriots’ lead to seven, Chandler Jones blocked Blair Walsh’s field goal and returned it 70 yards for a touchdown. Instead of the score reading 17-10 at half time, New England went up 24-7 and never looked back.