…LB Elandon Roberts was fortunate not to get flagged on the game’s first play from scrimmage when he decked Vikings RB Dalvin Cook in the helmet area. The officiating crew could easily have called Roberts for a personal foul because the pass to Cook fell incomplete and Roberts had time to hold up. The refs kept their flags in their pockets, however.
…Nice tackle by LB Kyle Van Noy two plays later. The Vikings threw a screen to WR Stefon Diggs on 3rd-and-8, but Van Noy read the play and fired into the screen to bring Diggs down from behind. He’s made a number of instinctive plays like this in recent games.
…Tough night for TE Rob Gronkowski, who drew three penalty flags. He only had one called against him all season before that. The first one against Minnesota came just before the Patriots’ first offensive snap. From a three-point stance, Gronk flinched during QB Tom Brady’s cadence.
…Busted assignments by the Vikings’ defense led to three consecutive double-digit passing gains for New England on the Patriots’ first possession. That accounted for 57 of the 81 yards the offense traveled en route to the game’s first score.
…The final yard came from fullback James Develin, who followed behind a great push by the offensive line to get into the end zone with ease.
…DL Adam Butler used a nice bull rush to get a sack of QB Kirk Cousins on the next Vikings drive. It helped Butler’s cause that there appeared to be a mix-up of blocking assignments among the interior o-line. Looked like the center and left guard thought the other was going to stay with Butler after they originally double-teamed him. Both players let Butler go halfway through his rush, however, giving Butler a free lane to get to Cousins.
…Van Noy nearly sacked Cousins on the ensuing third down, but his pressure caused the QB to throw a rushed pass that fell incomplete. Van Noy was able to reach Cousins thanks to another double-team of Butler. Van Noy came rushing from behind Butler, who was occupied by two Vikings linemen. Van Noy essentially stunted around them and no one from Minnesota picked him up along the way.
…Bad drop by WR Julian Edelman on 3rd-and-6 on the next series. He was open at the marker and should have allowed New England to continue driving. Looked as if maybe he turned his head up-field before he secured the football.
…New England’s D did a great job all evening of confusing the Minnesota offense by lining up in unorthodox personnel packages. For example, second quarter, 3rd-and-6 for the Vikings deep in their own end. The Patriots put just one d-lineman in a three-point stance (DE Trey Flowers as the nose tackle over center), while 10 other defenders were standing up within five yards of the line of scrimmage, half of them moving around pre-snap to make it difficult for the Vikings o-line to pick out blocking assignments.
The Patriots wound up rushing just four players, but it generated enough of a distraction for Cousins – Flowers actually got in his face – to throw an errant pass incomplete. Vikings punted.
…Appeared as if Gronk or RT Marcus Cannon missed a blocking assignment when DE Stephen Weatherly shot into the backfield to drop RB Rex Burkhead for a 4-yard loss.
…Another aggressive defensive play by New England on the next Vikings possession came on 2nd-and-17 near midfield. The Patriots had all 11 players within eight yards of the line of scrimmage. Eight of them, in fact, were on or within a yard of the line. Seven of them blitzed Cousins at the snap. He unloaded the football to absolutely no one along the sideline as a direct result of what he saw coming. The pressure made Cousins panic.
…New England blitzed Cousins with five players on the very next snap, although nine Patriots were at the line of scrimmage before the snap (seven in upright positions and moving around). Again, Cousins rushed his throw and it went for a minimal gain. Vikings punted again.
…Some sort of communication blunder occurred between CB Jason McCourty and his twin brother, safety/co-captain Devin, to allow WR Adam Thielen to get open in the corner of the end zone at the end of the first half. Cousins threw a precise pass over both McCourtys heads into the waiting arms of Thielen.
…The game might have had a different complexion had Thielen been able to haul in a 3rd-and-5 pass downfield from Cousins on Minnesota’s first drive of the second half. Thielen got open by running a textbook stop-and-go route down the seam to beat the McCourty Twins again. Thielen had to dive for the pass at midfield, but it hit his hands and he should have caught it. That would have set the Vikings up with great field position. Instead, they punted.
...For the most part, the Patriots’ secondary held Thielen and Stefon Diggs, the other great Vikings pass catcher, in check all evening. Jason McCourty handled Thielen, while Stephon Gilmore guarded Diggs.
…Gronkowski’s second penalty – a hold while run-blocking for rookie Sony Michel – was also warranted. He had a fistful of a Viking defender’s jersey, which helped Michel gain positive yardage that was consequently nullified.
…I’m still amazed that rookie CB J.C. Jackson wasn’t flagged for at least one of the two end zone passes he broke up in the late third quarter, the first to Thielen, the other intended for WR Aldrick Robinson. I’ve seen far less egregious infractions called against other defenders over the years. Jackson is fortunate to have gotten away with those.
…WR Josh Gordon didn’t see a ball thrown to him until the very next series at the end of the third quarter. He turned what should have been a 6-yard gain into a 24-yard catch-and-run because of a poor missed tackle by Vikings CB Marcus Sherels.
…Next play, Gronkowski caught a 15-yard pass, but was drilled in the left hip area. He held onto the ball and stayed in for most of the remainder of the game, but that’s something we’ll have to watch on the injury report this week potentially.
…Gordon’s 24-yard touchdown catch-and-run at the end of that same drive was about as easy a stroll through a zone coverage as I’ve ever seen in this league. All he did was run a dig route into a gaping hole in that zone, then turned up-field and waltzed into the end zone without ever really being touched by a Viking.
…Flowers, this time lining up at the left DE position, sacked Cousins at the start of the fourth quarter to force a Minnesota punt. He was among several defenders standing up at the line of scrimmage, but just before the snap, he ducked down into a three-point stance.
At the snap, d-tackle Adam Butler and Van Noy rushed toward the right guard and tackle. Flowers took a step up-field before stunting underneath and around his two teammates into an alley that was clear of any other Vikings blockers. Flowers had a free shot at Cousins and finished the QB off for a 10-yard loss.
…Really nice to see Develin get another touchdown, this time a 2-yard plunge. He’s such a reliable blocker for whichever running back is in the backfield, he deserves some time in the limelight every now and then.
…For the most part, Patriots defenders tackled well against Minnesota. Always pleases me to see excellent form tackling on display.