Early on, it looked like Adrian Petersonmight have a monster day carrying the ball on this Halloween. By halftime, the Vikings running back had 18 rushes for 68 yards and a phantom touchdown.
But in the second half, he must've been spooked by the Patriots defense, which limited him to just 24 yards on seven carries. For the game, he averaged less than the desired four yards-per-carry (3.7) and couldn't crack the century mark in yardage (92).
Nor did Randy Mosscome back to haunt New England, as many expected he might. Through the air, the Minnesota Vikings had their moments, but Moss was treated to just one catch, for all of eight yards – he might've had two and a score if he even made half an attempt at a long pass from Brett Favre, on which safety Brandon Meriweatherwas flagged for interfering with Moss.
Percy Harvin, the Vikings' other pass catching threat, and Favre were abused by the Patriots defenders throughout the game – another indication of how much more physical New England was on this day. Harvin had to leave the game briefly after suffering an ankle injury, while Favre, the 41-year-old QB, was knocked out of the game in the fourth quarter by a hit to the chin by defensive lineman Myron Pryor.
"The big emphasis with me in particular this week was, just, get in him. Be aggressive as I possibly can with him," said right cornerback Kyle Arrington, who guarded Moss all afternoon. "I think I did an OK job with Randy this week. He's familiar with me and I'm familiar with him. The tougher, more physical person out of that matchup was going to fare better."
"Just come out and compete, be aggressive with him when we could, try to jam him at certain times when the defense calls for it," added rookie left corner Devin McCourty, "because you know at any time, Moss can make a big play. I was trying not to be lulled to sleep by Adrian Peterson running and just staying on Percy Harvin."
Some witchcraft may have been involved when McCourty picked off a Favre pass intended for Harvin in the third quarter, which led directly to a Patriots touchdown by BenJarvus Green-Ellisto put New England up 21-10.
"It was a little strange," McCourty admitted. "The way he went to catch the ball, I guess it bobbled a little and I was able to get my hand in there. Then, the ball bounced in the air and I was able to intercept it."
But there was nothing bizarre about the way the Patriots withstood a Vikings assault at the end of the first half. Tied at seven apiece and needing just a yard to go up seven at intermission, the Patriots, as a team, read the handoff to Peterson, shot their gaps and outmuscled their would-be blockers to stuff Minnesota for a two-yard loss on fourth down.
That play may have encapsulated the way New England won this game today.
"I'm really happy for the players that we had some success with it today, because we work on our goal-line every week. We take a lot of pride in it on defense. I know we felt like we stopped them on the one that they gave them the touchdown on, but it was nice to get that stop before the half. That was a big play," head coach Bill Belichicktold reporters afterward.
"Oh, yeah, big momentum changer," defensive lineman Gerard Warrensaid of the goal line stand. "That's what we look forward to – rising to the challenge. It builds momentum, fourth and inches, fourth and short, to make that play, it was a momentum builder, but throughout the game, guys were making plays."
"It's a great job by our players," added Belichick. "They really had a great week of preparation. They worked hard this week and the things that we wanted to do, for the most part in the second half we did. I felt like that was a big factor in us winning the game: players being able to execute the plays we needed at the right time."
Each week, it seems, the team that was too young, too inexperienced, too unfamiliar with one another, is maturing and gaining confidence with each win and each big play.
"I would say so, week to week," Arrington said. "I think we all did a good job with the game plan and executing. We're a young group and the more we play with each other and get comfortable with each other, the more physical, aggressive playmakers we can be."
"We're just trying to build and get better each week and get a 'W,'" Warren concluded. "We're seeing incremental progress. The development is coming along. Guys just come to work every day."
Monday, the Patriots will come to work with a record of 6-1 and alone atop the AFC East. This, from a team that still hasn't reached its full potential.
Scary thought, isn't it?