Sunday, September 14, 2014

Patriots stomp Vikings 30-7, but Brady unimpressed

Stevan Ridley rushed for 101 yards in the Patriots' 30-7 victory over the Vikings in Minneapolis on Sunday
"Three yards and a cloud of dust used to be the standard for success in the National Football League.  It is the most fundamental concept in the game, and has been the backbone of championship teams since the very beginning - and teams that ignore its importance are doomed to defeat." - Foxborough Free Press, September 14, 2014
The Minnesota Vikings were without running back Adrian Peterson on Sunday afternoon.

So now that the caveat has been issued, anything positive that the New England Patriots' defense accomplished on Sunday afternoon against the Vikings' offense is clearly due to the absence of one of the all time great running backs - so thank goodness for the Patriots' offense.

Just don't expect quarterback Tom Brady to buy into that.

“I’m happy we won." Brady groaned after the game. "I wish we could go out there and play like we are capable of. Just the way it is."

The way it is, is that Stevan Ridley ran for 101 yards and Shane Vereen 40 more as the Patriots cleared football's version of baseball's Mendoza Line with plenty to spare, averaging 4.1 yards per carry, and Chandler Jones blocked a field goal attempt and took it to the house as the New England Patriots routed the Minnesota Vikings by a score of 30-7 at TCF Stadium on the campus of the University of Minnesota on Sunday afternoon.

Perhaps Brady was unhappy that the offense was only 5 of 14 on third down conversions, or maybe it was the inordinate number of penalties, or maybe even the fact that New England left points on the field due to those blunders, or it could be that he steamed that he was only allowed to throw 22 passes compared to having to hand the ball off 37 times - but whatever it is, Brady is looking forward to rectifying it.

“We are going to try and make improvements, so that’s why we get back to work tomorrow and see what we can do better,” Brady snarled. “Similar to after last week, try to make some improvements and hopefully we can go out there and do a better job.”

The Vikings weren't so fortunate on the ground, counting on third-year back Matt Asiata to fill the void left by Peterson's indiscretion, leading a Minnesota running game that produced only 54 yards on 19 rushing attempts, coach Mike Zimmer abandoning the running game by necessity in the second half in favor of, well, that was the problem.

Minnesota quarterback Matt Cassel paid a heavy price for the offense's inability to run the ball, taking six sacks by the relentless Patriots' pass rush, and getting drilled eight more times after releasing the ball - the pressure having much to do with Cassel throwing four interceptions, though the athleticism of the New England defensive backs played a part in it as well.

After the Minnesota Vikings drove the length of the field to score an easy-looking opening touchdown against the New England Patriots, the television play-by-play announcers made it a point to mention that since halftime of the Patriots' loss to Miami on opening weekend, they had been outscored 30-0...

...but it was just a matter of a couple of minutes before the Patriots scored the first of their own thirty unanswered points, safety Devin McCourty's 60 yard interception return setting up Ridley from the one yard line for a 7-7 game midway through the opening frame.

The first of three Stephen Gostkowski field goals gave New England a 10-7 lead at the end of the quarter, then a Darrelle Revis interception led to a filthy Brady lob to Julian Edelman in the left corner of the end zone to give them a 10 point lead just into the quarter, then the teams traded punts before Chandler Jones came away with the play of the game.

Cassel caught fire with just under three minutes remaining in the half, leading the Vikings to what appeared to be a simple 48 yard field goal attempt and a chance to cut the lead to just one score heading into the room, but Jones penetrated through the protection and used his 6' 6" frame and octopus-like span to block the kick, picking up the ball at the Patriots 42 and returning it 58 yards for the dagger.

“It was a huge 10-point play,” Belichick said of Jones' effort. “It’s a huge play. We work on that every week, and it was great to see it happen in the way it did and see that hard work in practice pay off and become reality in the game. That’s what it is all about."

Up 24-7, the Patriots turned to their running game in the second half, settling for two Gostkowski field goals after long, clock eating drives to provide the final margin while the New England defense pinned their ears back and went after Cassel, forcing two more interceptions and sending Minnesota to their first defeat of the young season.

Afterward, coach Bill Belichick was in a rare jovial mood, complimenting his coaching staff and players just seven days removed from their worst performance in years - and just after his team improve to an astonishing 38-1 when one of their backs rushes for 100 yards or more, and 34-5 after a loss the week before.

"We had good opportunities to run the ball and that led to play-action passes,” Belichick said, offering the obvious after his 200th career victory. "Our offensive line, our tight ends, James Develin is part of that, they blocked well. Stevan ran hard."

It wasn't perfect, as Brady will be quick to tell you, particularly after being flagged for 15 penalties for a whopping 163 yards, but it was a marked improvement from the week before, and a victory made sweeter being the first one since their ugly loss in last January's AFC Title game...

...and hopefully one where the Patriots learned that sticking with their running game regardless of the level of initial success, is how to win football games.  They didn't do it in Denver and the didn't in Miami last week, but on a cool late summer afternoon in Minnesota, New England did stick with their ground game, and it opened up the entire playbook.

Just don't expect Tom Brady to be satisfied, because there's only thing that will do that - something tall and shiny that he has to go to Arizona to get, but it's far too early to think about such things.

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