BOSTON -- The Patriots offense had its best game of the season Thursday night, leading to the most exciting game of the season for New England. But several mental mistakes cost the Patriots, who fell to the Vikings 33-26 on Thanksgiving night.
Penalties and unforced errors did the Patriots in Thursday night, snapping the team's three-game win streak. New England now sits at 6-5 on the season.
Hunter Henry didn't run out of bounds to stop the clock, costing the Patriots precious time before the half. Special teams had a rough night, as the Pats gave up a 97-yard kickoff return touchdown and then ran into the punter on a fourth-and-3.
"Disappointed to come up a little short, but we had too many mistakes that they took advantage of," Bill Belichick said after the loss. "That was really the difference in the game. You could point to a lot of things and any of them would have made a difference."
Mac Jones was solid overall, throwing for 382 yards and two touchdowns, but the offense dried up in the second half and was held scoreless in the fourth quarter.
Kirk Cousins threw three touchdowns for the Vikings, while Justin Jefferson went wild with nine receptions for 139 yards and a touchdown.
The Vikings opened the game with an eight-play, 80-yard scoring drive, capped off by a six-yard touchdown pass by Cousins to Jefferson. It put the Patriots in an early 7-0 hole, which didn't look promising for an offense that scored zero points last week.
But the New England offense answered in a hurry -- and with authority. Mac Jones hit Jakobi Meyers for 26 yards on his first pass of the game (after fumbling the snap), and a few plays later delivered a beautiful deep ball to Nelson Agholor for a 34-yard touchdown.
That was New England's first first-quarter touchdown of the season, tying the game 7-7.
The Vikings got into New England territory on their next drive, but Cousins threw an ill-advised pass over the middle that was picked off by Jonathan Jones, who broke off his double team of Jefferson to snag his third interception of the season. Jones returned the pick 55 yards to the Vikings 17-yard line.
But the Patriots lost seven yards on a second-down double reverse that ended up in the hands of Kendrick Bourne, and had to settle for a field goal. The Vikings answered with a lengthy 14-play drive that took nearly eight minutes, but they also had to settle for a field goal to make it a 10-10 game early in the second quarter.
After Folk gave the Patriots a 13-10 lead on their next possession, the Vikings answered with a 75-yard touchdown drive. Jefferson ran right through a double team for a 37-yard reception on a third-and-7, and he had another 17-yard catch on the drive. The Patriots stuffed Dalvin Cook on first-and-goal and second-and-goal, but Cousins found TJ Hockenson for an easy score on third-and-goal on a play-action pass after Kyle Dugger slipped on the field and couldn't recover. Greg Joseph missed the extra point though, so the Vikings only went up 16-13.
The Patriots tied it before the half with another Folk field goal, but that was a disappointing outcome since they had a chance to take a lead into the locker room. Jones hit Henry for a nice 22-yard connection to the Minnesota 48, but the tight end didn't step out of bounds and forced Belichick to burn a timeout. Belichick had to use his third and final timeout a few plays later when Jones scrambled and slid (which went in the books as a Vikings sack) instead of throwing the ball away. The game was knotted at 16-16 after 30 minutes.
Henry made up for his miscue on the first drive of the second half though. After the Patriots converted a pair of third downs on their opening drive, he capped things off with a 37-yard touchdown on a nice play-action pass by Jones to put New England on top 23-16. Thursday night was Jones' first two-touchdown game of the season.
The lead did not last long though. The game was tied again just 13 seconds later when Kene Nwangwu returned New England's kickoff 97 yards for a touchdown. Kyle Dugger was held on the play which let the Minnesota return man break free, a costly miss by the officials that really hurt the Pats.
It looked like Henry scored even redemption when he hauled in a six-yard touchdown on New England's ensuing drive. The tight end made a nice move to catch Jones' pass and then got the ball across the plain before he hit the ground, but the ball bobbled a bit when he hit -- but did not come loose -- and officials overturned the catch after a long review. The Pats settled for another Folk field goal, giving them a 26-23 lead.
A 30-23 lead would have been a lot better though. The Vikings marched down the field and had the ball inside the New England 10, but Josh Uche came up with a big sack on Cousins to force a third-and-17. Cousins' third-down offering to Thielen fell incomplete, and Joseph tied the game with a 36-yard field goal.
The New England defense did get off the field on Minnesota's next possession, but another bad penalty kept the drive alive for the Vikings. Rookie Pierre Strong ran into punter Ryan Wright, so instead of the Patriots getting the ball back, the Vikings were given a first down. After a Cousins dart to Jefferson picked up 37 yards, the QB hit Thielan for a 15-yard score to put the Vikings on top 33-26 with 9:34 to play.
The New England offense answered with its second straight three-and-out. Jones' third-and-1 pass to Tyquan Thornton sailed over the receiver, though officials missed a Vikings defender grabbing Jones' facemask on the play. Things continued to go downhill for the Patriots when Michael Palardy's punt went just 31 yards and gave the Vikings the ball at their own 35-yard line.
The New England defense came up with a huge stop though, and got the ball back to the offense with 4:21 left. Rhamondre Stevenson picked up 40 huge yards on a dump pass from Jones, setting the Patriots up at the Minnesota 33. But Jones was sacked for a nine-yard loss when Trent Brown let Danielle Hunter get by him on third-and-7, and Jones' deep heave for Nelson Agholor on fourth down fell incomplete with 1:54 left.
The Pats got the ball back with 53 seconds left but needed to march 89 yards down the field. Jones was sacked on first down, and then Patrick Peterson kept Kendrick Bourne inbounds on a second-down connection to keep the clock ticking. That essentially sealed the deal for Minnesota.
Jones was happy with the offense's progress, but obviously disappointed with the final outcome.
"We have to keep coming together and build off adversity. That is the biggest thing for us," said Jones. "We have to flip the switch and figure it out."
Matthew Judon said the team is frustrated -- but not disappointed.
"It wasn't our night tonight, but I don't think we're far off. It was a couple calls, a couple of plays, a couple of this and a couple of that and it could have been a different game," he said. "But we didn't make those plays."
The Patriots don't even get the benefit of a long week after this Thursday night loss, as they'll host the 8-3 Buffalo Bills at Gillette next Thursday night. They'll have to get over the sting of losing a game they should have won pretty quickly.
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