Patriots Snag Defeat From the Jaws of Victory in Minneapolis
Every Patriots loss, outside of maybe the Green Bay one in Week 4, has been infuriating. Simply from the standpoint, it had come down to either bad execution or coaching universally. On Thanksgiving night, there was a mix of both, as the Patriots both left points on the board, and essentially spotted the Vikings 14 points on special teams blunders. The worst part about this is Mac Jones easily had his best game of the year. Over 350 yards passing (career high) with two scores and no picks. There was some brutal officiating in this one in favor of the Vikings, but make no mistake about it, the Patriots had a golden opportunity in prime time on the road, and they blew it.
First Quarter Offense??
Before yesterday, the Patriots were the only team remaining in the NFL not to score an offensive touchdown in the first quarter. Jones on a couple of deep balls changed that on the opening drive of the game. Although the Vikings' secondary is nothing to write home about, the formula here should stick around. That being giving Jones the ability to go vertical should the situation allow it. This was easily his best game of the year as well which was great to see, albeit in a loss.
Defensive Disappearing Act
Against the Colts and the Jets the second time around, the Patriots gave up a combined 224 yards. Tack on 134 more yards and that's how much damage the Vikings did in just one game. Mainly Justin Jefferson who was borderline unguardable, going for nine catches for 139 yards and a touchdown on the Vikings' opening drive. Although you'd probably want a few of those catches to go for incompletions or better, Jefferson is going to get his regardless, it's just how things go. Dalvin Cook was more or less shut down as a runner so if that gives you any hint of what the Patriots gameplan was, there you go.
Along with the secondary, the big issue on Thursday night was the pass rush, which was virtually nonexistent save for a Josh Uche sack. Just four days prior, the Dallas Cowboys picked up seven sacks against this same unit. Matt Judon was getting a good amount of attention, which is expected at this point, but no one else, Judon included, was able to apply pressure. A very disappointing night to say the least.
Elsewhere in the secondary, there were several blunders worth mentioning as well. First up was the unnecessary roughness penalty on Myles Bryant. He opted to go for a kill shot hit on Thielen when he never had a shot to catch a lowly thrown ball. After which, he was justifiably benched for the majority of the remaining game. Bryant continues to be a general sore spot with the defense with no signs of improvement either which is frustrating. There was also Jabrill Peppers seemingly blowing the coverage on the final Thielen score as well, as he was seen meeting with Steve Belichick after that play. Zone defensive play was shotty all evening as well.
Special Teams Disaster
Not often in the last 20 years could you legitimately say the Patriots' special teams' play was horrendous in a game, but that was absolutely the case here. First of all, this unit gave up their first kickoff return touchdown in over 12 years to Kene Nwangwu in the third quarter. Although there was a hold on Kyle Dugger in space, New England still had a shot to stop him from breaking off a big return and failed.
Secondly, there was the running into the kicker penalty on rookie running back Pierre Strong. Had he not made contact, Adam Thielen wouldn't have scored the game-winning touchdown just three plays later. No guarantee the Vikings don't score if Nwangwu doesn't get the return TD, but that Strong penalty was a seven-point swing. He's only a rookie so hopefully Strong can grow from this, but that was a game-changing mistake.
Patricia Has No Clue What He's Doing in the Red Zone
The Patriot's red zone offense has been as bad as it's ever been in my lifetime and, shockingly, was again the case in Minneapolis. This is despite the Vikings being the single worst red zone defense in the sport of American Gridiron Football. On a night where things had to improve inside the 20, Matt Patricia objectively failed...again.
Even if the Hunter Henry touchdown stood, the Houston Texans, who have one NFL regular season win in 2022, and will likely have the first pick in the 2023 draft, have a better red zone scoring percentage than the Patriots. I simply ask this, at what point is Matt Patricia's seat hot as OC? With play calls like that reverse to Kendrick Bourne when the Vikings couldn't stop anything vertically, that seat might as well be liquid magma. Also, Patricia led an offense that went 3-10 on third down, excellent stuff.
Up Next: Bills Mafia Invasion
Things don't get easier next Thursday night, as Josh Allen and the 8-3 Buffalo Bills make the annual trip to Gillette Stadium. Earlier on Thanksgiving day, they hit a last-second field goal to escape Detroit with their second win at Ford Field in four days due to the recent storm in Buffalo relegating them there a few days early.
Like most teams in the league, they have some injuries but received both good and bad news on that front Thursday. Firstly, cornerback Tre'Davious White made his first start since tearing his ACL basically a year ago on the dot. At 100 percent, he is one of the best man-to-man corners in football, and with the Bills' secondary being banged up as is, this is a heck of a time to get him back. The bad news was that Von Miller suffered what is believed to be a knee sprain, and was ruled out immediately after getting carted from the sidelines to the locker room. Buffalo probably overpaid to get him by a little bit, but the former Super Bowl MVP has been as advertised in 2022. Calling that a massive loss would be an understatement, with some minor injuries up front as well.
On the whole this year, the Bills haven't appeared to be as dominant as last year, and are once again relying on Josh Allen to carry them in both the running and passing game. Devin Singletary is behind his QB in rushing yards by nine, despite having 43 more carries. Along with Allen's UCL issues in his throwing elbow, he hasn't looked pretty at times. Despite that, the Bills have been able to win ugly this year. Probably more so than they would want to, but if they end up winning the Super Bowl this year, no one will care down the road.
Final Score: Minnesota Vikings 33, New England Patriots 26
Gaffney's Three Stars:
1st Star – Mac Jones (28/39, 382 Yards, 2 TDs, 0 INTs)
2nd Star – Rhamondre Stevenson (7 Carries for 36 Yards, 9 Catches for 76 Yards)
3rd Star – Yodney Cajuste (Allowed 0 Sacks)