By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) -- The New England Patriots are better at football than the Minnesota Vikings. The two teams left no doubt on that matter with their respective showings on Sunday afternoon at Gillette Stadium.
And while the win may not go down in Patriots lore as being particularly unforgettable, one thing you have to respect is that the Patriots looked at some strengths of the Vikings and went right at them.
Entering the game, the Vikings had only allowed six rushing touchdowns all year long. Yet when the Patriots had a first-and-goal from the 1-yard line on their opening drive, they didn't mess around. An inside handoff to Sony Michel was followed with a fullback dive to James Develin, putting the Patriots up 7-0.
Early in the fourth quarter, the Patriots again had a first-and-goal near the goal line, this time on the 2-yard line. Once again, they went right at the Vikings with an inside handoff to Develin. The Patriots powered their way to another rushing touchdown.
Overall, the Patriots remained heavily committed to the run game, going with 39 rushes for 160 yards and the two scores, for an average of 4.1 yards per carry. Entering Sunday, the Vikings allowed just 3.9 yards per carry, which was third-best in the NFL.
And despite Minnesota's vaunted pass rush and strong defensive backfield, the Patriots of course didn't shy away from passing the ball (do they ever?), as evidenced by Tom Brady's 32 pass attempts for 311 yards and a touchdown. He did throw a pick on a play where Harrison Smith leveled him in the backfield, but that was the only snap that led to a hit on Brady by the Minnesota defense.
The Patriots may not look like their usual dominant selves this year overall, but on Sunday? That was a pretty significant sign that maybe, just maybe, these Patriots are rounding into form now that the calendar's flipped to December.
It ought to be a pretty interesting month, and next weekend's trip to Miami will be fascinating. But let's not jump ahead to next week when we've still got so much from this week to comb through in the leftover thoughts from the Patriots' 24-10 win over the Vikings.
--It was a thorough victory, but it wasn't without its lulls. Namely, after the Patriots scored a touchdown on their opening possession just 5:27 into the game, they didn't find their way into the end zone again for the next 38:58 of game time. That's obviously not ideal.
Yet, after Dan Bailey tied the game with a 39-yard field goal, it's as if the Patriots woke up, snapped out of whatever daze they had been in, and quickly got to work. They needed just four plays and 1:45 to go 75 yards to retake the lead, and they'd need just six plays and 3:12 to score another touchdown on their next possession. And just like that, the game was all but over.
--For as good as the Vikings defense may be, the Zero Humans Defense was employed really, really early.
I mean ...
I've seen better third-down defense. Just being honest.
The Vikings' defense may not have been ready to start this game, because here's how they covered Cordarrelle Patterson (and his electric yellow cleats) on the next snap:
And that right there is the beginner's guide to giving up 42 yards on consecutive plays. It's almost impressive.
--Equally as impressive was Kirk Cousins' dedication to utilizing the extremely rare *offensive* version of Zero Humans Football. Kirk Cousins threw this pass late in the second quarter:
And he threw THIS pass late in the third quarter:
Wild times in Minnesota.
--After the game I came to one conclusion: The NFL ought to experiment trying a game with no referee and no officials. If that's too extreme, maybe downsize the officiating crew from seven to, I don't know, three. Put a guy in the backfield, one guy on the line, and one guy out deep by the safeties. See what happens. Use the the next four Raiders games to test it out, because the Raiders stink and their games are inconsequential.
I just don't know what else to do. These games can become brutal to watch, and it's not like the seven guys on the field are actually nailing their calls.
They missed what appeared to be clear pass interference in the end zone on both teams (Anthony Harris on Julian Edelman, J.C. Jackson on Adam Thielen). They goofed a spot on a fourth-and-1 run by Minnesota. They interpret the catch rule differently every time. It's just tiring, and it's not very fun to watch.
--For real, that spot on fourth-and-1? What are we doing here?
This was as far forward as the football traveled:
What, you don't believe my arrow? Fine. Here. A moving picture for you, Mr. or Mrs. Doubting Thomas/Thomasina:
Lawrence Guy stopped Murray dead in his tracks. Dont'a Hightower came over the top to drive him backward. Murray never extended the ball to the 39-yard line. The fella was stuffed.
Yet the officials on the field immediately ruled first down, and someone that call was upheld on replay. It's just bad officiating, compounding by a lack of ability and/or desire to fix it on replay. No excuse. No fun.
--Oh, also the officials may have missed Mackensie Alexander being offside at the snap when he stopped James White on a third-and-1 sweep:
Everson Griffin looked like he had a hand in the neutral zone, too.
They also appeared to have missed a false start on LaAdrian Waddle on Develin's second touchdown run. Watch him at the top of the screen lurch forward befor the snap:
There are rules, people!
And that third-and-1 only existed because the officials overturned an awarded first down on a Rob Gronkowski catch-and-drag-a-human-on-his-back-for-12-yards-play. Somehow the replay office in New York could tell that this ball didn't reach the line to gain ...
... but couldn't tell that Murray didn't reach the line to gain.
Whatever, man. Just get rid of the officials. See what happens. It's December. Get wild.
--Adam Thielen's verbal spat with Bill Belichick obviously generated quite a bit of attention. Because it was awesome. The best part of it was that neither guy was wrong. Patrick Chung was probably not so hurt that he had to hit the deck, hence Thielen being upset. But Belichick was well within his right to politely say, "Thanks for your concern, young man, but I've got things under control over here."
The whole spat may have taken Thielen off his game a bit, too, if this play from two snaps later was any indication:
--One fiery sideline exchange that didn't get much attention was Brady flipping his lid for some reason after Sony Michel picked up two yards on a third-and-1 in the fourth quarter.
It didn't make it on the TV broadcast, and neither Joe Buck nor Troy Aikman mentioned it, but Brady turned toward the Vikings sideline after that run and did that thing where he's demonstrably pointing and shouting something or another. I have no idea who it was aimed at, but it appeared to be a bark to someone on the purple sideline.
A few plays later, when Develin plunged across the goal line, Brady went completely nuts in celebration. Maybe he was mad about something, or maybe he was just jacked up on Mountain Dew.
--David Andrews paid a price for blocking on Develin's first touchdown run:
That looks like a terrible time.
--Oh! Before the season I laid out what Tom Brady needed to do in order to deliver the greatest season ever by a 41-year-old quarterback. As a refresher, here are the numbers he'd need to hit:
60.7 percent completion rate
83.8 passer rating
Those numbers are the best stats in individual categories by any 41-year-old quarterback, so Brady isn't going up specifically against Brett Favre or Warren Moon or Vinny Testaverde. He's going up against an imaginary, composite 41-year-old quarterback. Because when you're Brady, you don't have to be better than one person. You have to be better than every person.
Through 12 games, here's where Brady is at:
286 completions (28 shy)
65.9 percent completion rate (significantly better)
3,342 yards (337 yards shy)
20 TDs (six shy)
8 INTs (seven picks of breathing room)
7.7 Y/A (significantly better)
96.8 passer rating (significantly better)
9-3 record (already has it clinched)
He can top the completions mark and the yardage mark with at least 29 completions for at least 337 yards next week. But whether it's next week or the week after that, it seems safe to believe that it's only a matter of time before the 1,000-yard rusher officially becomes the best 41-year-old quarterback in NFL history.
--Just as important, he just looks right wearing that old helmet again.
All is right in the world when Brady's wearing the helmet from the '90s.
--Big picture, things look pretty good. I'll admit, I was one of the bozos after the Detroit game saying "It just feels a little different this year don't ya think?!!??!?!" Alas, it wasn't different. The Patriots merely decided that they'd play their worst against the worst teams this season en route to building a 9-3 record.
I have no idea how they'll perform in Miami, because that's always a question mark. But if you were a gambler, foreseeing a 13-3 finish to this season would not be a bad bet at all. Suffice it to say, nobody -- not-a-one -- saw that coming after Week 3. What fools we have been.
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