An impressive start and solid finish helped the Patriots (9-3) pull away from the Vikings (6-5-1) for a 24-10 victory Sunday evening at Gillette Stadium.
New England got off to a fast start on both sides of the ball, forcing a three-and-out on defense before an eight-play, 81-yard drive to a James Develin 1-yard touchdown run on its opening possession.
Minnesota missed a field goal on its ensuing drive and the teams swapped a handful of punts before Stephen Gostkowski hit a 20-yard field goal midway through the second quarter that eventually sent the team's to the locker room with New England leading 10-7.
The game remained as such until late in the third quarter when Dan Bailey bounced back with a 39-yard field goal to tie the contest at 10.
It didn't take the Patriots long to answer, though, as Tom Brady connected on four-straight passes to move 75 yards, culminating with a 24-yard touchdown to Josh Gordon.
Develin tacked on his second score of the game early in the fourth quarter to finalize the scoring for the two-score win to open December.
Facing the NFL's No. 1 third-down defense, New England converted seven of 14 opportunities. Against the No. 1 red zone defense, the Patriots scored on all three possessions inside the Minnesota 20, including Develin's two touchdown runs.
It was a good solid win, including complementary efforts similar to another key win over the NFC North Packers a month earlier.
It still wasn't perfect. It was a dogfight in the third quarter. And the scoring may be down a bit for Brady's crew. But it was another win to keep pace one game behind the Chiefs in the AFC and at the very least keep hold of the No. 2 seed in the conference playoff seeding.
"That was a great team win by our guys today. I thought we played hard. Minnesota is obviously a good football team," Bill Belichick said. "Overall I thought it was a good week of preparation and we came out and played a good complementary game. A good win against a good football team."
Before moving on to next week's trip to Miami to take on the Dolphins, here are some of the personnel highs and lows from the impressive win over the Vikings.
James Develin – New England's Pro Bowl fullback had arguably his best, most productive game of his career. He had two 1-yard touchdown runs, pushing his total scores to three on the season. He had a 9-yard reception for a first down on a long third-quarter drive to a Gostkowski field goal attempt. He had a 1-yard run to move the chains on a third-and-1 in the fourth quarter to help run out the clock on the win. Develin, as usual, was also dominant as a blocker. He blew up linebacker Anthony Barr on an early Sony Michel 7-yard run. He killed defensive tackle Tom Johnson on a 10-yard Rex Burkhead run in the second quarter. Develin even had a nice pitch back to Cordarrelle Patterson on a short kickoff late in the second quarter, leading to a 25-yard kickoff return to the 40 that gave the Patriots a chance for a shot at points. It was a tremendous day for Develin.
Stephon Gilmore – It was an impressive day for pretty much the entirety of the defense, specifically against the pass. Gilmore spent a lot of the game, especially early on, matched up with Stefon Diggs while Jason McCourty trailed Adam Thielen. The duo had just a single catch in the first quarter. Diggs finished with five catches for just 49 yards, while Thielen had five for just 28 yards. Gilmore had a nice tackle on Laquon Treadwell on fourth down in the fourth quarter that essentially ended the Vikings comeback hopes. Gilmore is New England's No. 1 cornerback and it's no coincidence that his best games coincide with some of the overall unit's best days.
Trey Flowers – While the coverage was getting the job done as a Gilmore-led group, the front was doing the same led by Flowers. He forced an incompletion when he hurried Cousins on a rush on a third down play in the second quarter. He also had a big third down sack on first play of the fourth quarter to force a punt up 17-10. Flowers finished with two tackles, the 10-yard sack, a tackle for a loss and QB hit. He was aided up front by Lawrence Guy, who also had a pair of QB hits on Cousins.
Josh Gordon – New England's biggest outside receiver was silent for nearly three quarters until he picked up a pair of 24-yard catches on his first two targets of the night, the second a touchdown to give the Patriots a 17-10 advantage. Gordon then earned a 20-yard pass interference call on cornerback Holton Hill on the first play of the next possession, kick-starting another scoring drive. The three catches for 58 yards, including Brady's only touchdown pass of the evening, were key to the victory.
Julian Edelman – It wasn't all bad for Edelman, but it was far from his best effort. He finished with just three catches for 25 yards and run twice for 25 yards. He also had a 23-yard punt return to set up the final scoring drive. But he also fumbled a punt out of bounds in the second quarter. He wasn't ready for a quick Brady throw crossing early that was fortunate to not be intercepted by Barr. He lost the ball at the end of a catch-and run in the first quarter. He also had a key third-down drop. It wasn't the consistent, sure-handed type of game that's expected of Edelman.
Kickoff coaching decisions/coverage – When the Patriots have boomed the ball into the end zone over the last couple weeks it's led to touchbacks. Then, when they've tried to kick it to the goal line to coerce a return, the opponent has found its way out to around the 35. Covering kicks has been an issue all season and it's really reached the point when it seems Belichick should call for Gostkowski to hit touchbacks whenever possible. The Vikings averaged 30.5 yards on a pair of kickoff returns with a long of 33 yards. The other three kickoffs went for touchbacks. Giving the opponent the ball at the 25 instead of past the 30 seems like a better plan, even with ugly weather on the horizon.
Edge run defense – It may have been a case of not being able to shut down everything from a pretty diverse Minnesota attack but really the only plays the Vikings hit were Dalvin Cook runs off the edge. The second-year speedster finished with 84 yards on just nine carries, including a long of 32 yards. He had two other runs of 22 and 18 yards. It didn't matter in the end, but Cook found the edge too easily.
Rob Gronkowski – There was almost nothing about Gronkowski's performance against the Vikings that was outright positive. He opened New England's first possession with a false start. He added two other holding calls, including one to wipe out an Edelman 21-yard run down the right sideline. Gronkowski caught just three passes (four targets) for 26 yards, a long of 15 yards after which he took a big hit and the ball popped loose, though he was called down by contact. He limped off the field a play later, but returned to finish the game. It was another subpar day for the tight end who was an All-Pro just a year ago.
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