The Patriots bounced back to post their first win of the season in Minnesota. Here are some random thoughts from the 30-7 victory.
Tackles improve – The offensive line was overrun for much of the opener but on Sunday the group was much better at keeping Tom Brady on his feet. That was particularly evident in the play off the edges. Everson Griffen and Brian Robison are capable pass rushers and they were kept at bay by Nate Solder and Sebastian Vollmer, respectively. While Griffen and Robison are as talented as Cameron Wake, the improvement from Week 1 was obvious and will be important, especially if the interior positions are going to continue to be in flux moving forward.
The New England Patriots visit TCF Bank Stadium for their Week 2 matchup with the Minnesota Vikings.
Special attention –** The kicking game was another area that showed great improvement from Week 1. Stephen Gostkowski nailed a pair of long field goals (48 and 47 yards), making him 4-for-4 from beyond 40 this season, and he also turned in four touchbacks. Julian Edelman was his electric self on punt returns, averaging 16.5 yards on his four attempts including returns of 34 and 28 yards. And the play of the game was turned in by Chandler Jones when he blocked Blair Walsh's field goal and returned it 58 yards for a touchdown late in the first half.
High praise – Dont'a Hightower spoke frequently during the offseason about hit desire to play closer to the line of scrimmage and serve as a penetrator/pass rusher more often. So far in 2014 he appears quite comfortable in such a role. He was a presence in the pass rush with a pair of sacks and tied with Jones for the team lead with eight tackles, seven of which were solos. Hightower also was competitive on the few occasions he was used in coverage, making a quick tackle after a short gain for Matt Asiata and contributing with a pass defensed.
Third-down problems – Despite the easy win, the offense had a difficult time converting third downs. Brady & Co. moved the chains on just 5 of 14 (36 percent) third downs. The problems were particularly evident in short yardage where New England failed to convert three times on third-and-two or less. Even Brady was stopped on a quarterback sneak, something that almost never happens.
Flag Day II – After committing nine penalties for more than 100 yards in the opener, most believed the Patriots would display much more discipline in Week 2. Not so much. Penalties were once again a problem in Minnesota as New England committed 15 infractions for 163 yards including a couple of potentially costly ones on defense that extended Vikings drives. The offense also wasn't as crisp as it should be in that department either as Solder was called for three penalties in a two-play span with one being declined. Bill Belichick must find a way to clean that up.
Play 60 – For the second week in a row the offense didn't mount much production in the second half. After getting blanked after intermission in the opener the Patriots were limited to a pair of field goals in Minnesota, although in fairness they held a commanding 24-7 lead at the break and were rightly conservative. One common denominator between the two second halves would be the disappearance of Edelman. In Miami he was blanked in the second half and targeted just once. On Sunday he had just once second-half catch (for 12 yards) on two targets. As Rob Gronkowski continues to work his way back from his torn ACL, Brady is still searching for other reliable targets and so far it's been a case of as Edelman goes, so goes the offense.
Worth noting – The Patriots won for the 12th straight time against an NFC North opponent, the longest streak for any team against any division. The win improved the Patriots to 39-9 against the NFC since realignment in 2002, also the best in football. … Stevan Ridley rushed for 101 yards on 25 carries and improved the Patriots to 38-1 under Belichick when they have a 100-yard rusher. The only loss came in 2004 in Miami when New England lost, 29-28, despite 125 yards from Corey Dillon. … Belichick became the sixth NFL coach with at least 200 regular-season wins, tying Marty Schottenheimer. … The team improved to 35-4 after a loss since 2003. … Brady passed John Elway and moved into third place all time with his 149th win as a starting quarterback. He now trailed just Brett Favre and Peyton Manning. … Edelman finished with six catches for 81 yards, marking the eighth straight game he caught at least six passes. … Jones' blocked field goal return for a touchdown was the Patriots first since Kyle Arrington turned the trick in 2010 in Miami.