MINNEAPOLIS –** A player who wasn't on the field Sunday in Minnesota may have had the biggest impact.
The absence of Adrian Peterson certainly affected how the Vikings were able to operate against New England's amorphous defense. Without their star ball carrier – deactivated because of domestic violence charges that came to light this past week – Minnesota rushed for a net of 6 yards in the first quarter and 41 by halftime.
Yet, the Vikings seemed to move the ball effectively through the air throughout much of the first half. Starting quarterback Matt Cassel was forced to throw the ball to his other weapons – tight end Kyle Rudolph and receiver Cordarrelle Patterson.
Initially, it looked good for Minnesota, which saw Cassel easily lead his team to a touchdown on the game's opening drive. Were it not for interceptions by safety Devin McCourty and cornerback Darrelle Revis, the Vikes may have been able to put more than 7 points on the scoreboard at intermission.
The New England Patriots visit TCF Bank Stadium for their Week 2 matchup with the Minnesota Vikings.
"Great, man. It's great to help the team, make plays," Revis said of his first pick as a Patriot. "We were making plays everywhere, not just my play. We played great team ball today. You guys saw that. Making a bunch of turnovers on defense, in the kicking game stopping Patterson. We just tried to capitalize on any play."
A great individual effort by Chandler Jones – blocking a field goal and returning it nearly 60 yards for a touchdown at the end of the half – also served to steal momentum away from Minnesota at the end of the first half.
To their credit, New England's offense managed to capitalize on their defense's turnovers. Both first-half INTs resulted in TDs for the Patriots, although it was a relatively quiet day overall for the Tom Brady and the offense. That may sound funny at first glance at the scoreboard, but it was nonetheless true.
Brady was a pedestrian 15-of-22 for 149 yards and just 1 touchdown. Tight end Rob Gronkowski played sparingly and managed just 32 yards on four catches. New England's ground game rose to the occasion – 150 total yards, 101 from Stevan Ridley – on a day when Minnesota's was sitting at home – literally.
"He's one of the best running backs in the league," admitted co-captain Devin McCourty. "It changed a lot. I obviously can't speak on how they run their offense, but whenever a guy's a huge part like that, it's going to change. It definitely changed their dynamic."
In the third quarter, Logan Ryan's interception thwarted yet another Vikings drive and resulted in three more points for the offense. Even rookie d-lineman Dominique Easley got in the act, making an athletic, diving play to pick off a batted Cassel pass.
The defense also sacked Cassel 6 times.
"Defensively, if you can get turnovers, blocking a kick, and returning it for a touchdown, that's how you want to come out and play," added McCourty. "I feel like we have a calmness about us. That's what pays off. You keep going out there and making a play, and the whole momentum changes."
"Our confidence level was high coming into this game," asserted co-captain Vince Wilfork. "A few corrections and we got back on track. We didn't play against Peterson, but, it is what it is."
"Yeah, it was fun, man," exclaimed a beaming co-captain Jerod Mayo. "Guys were out there having a great time. Anytime you're winning, it's going to be fun. We turned the page on Miami ASAP."
A week after starting out hot, then melting down in the Miami heat, New England's defense looked cool making play after play in the autumn-like weather up north in Minneapolis.
Just have to wonder how different the complexion of this game would have been if Peterson were playing. Nevertheless, New England returns home to Foxborough with an even 1-1 record and more positives than negatives from their first victory of the 2014 season.