The Patriots are happy to be home.
Back in Foxboro for the first time since their win over the Green Bay Packers on Nov. 4, a balanced offense (certainly aided by the return of running back Rex Burkhead) saw the Patriots deliver with 10 points, while New England’s defense held the Vikings to seven points behind an opening 30 minutes with enough pre-snap movement to make your head spin.
Tom Brady finished the half with 11 completions on 15 attempts, totaling 123 yards, and with completions to six different receivers. The Patriots’ backs struggled, however, with their three-headed running back rotation of Burkhead, Sony Michel, and James White combining for just 29 yards on 12 carries (2.4 yards per carry).
Still, the Patriots were able to score quickly on their opening drive, and then grab another three points on an exhausting 15-play drive that ate up 8:16 of the second quarter, much to the chagrin of the Vikings’ attack.
But New England’s “welcome home” kind of opening half was not complete without the team positioning themselves for their signature double-score, getting the ball back with over three minutes left in the second quarter.
Minnesota finished the frame strong, though, coming up with a stop on a third-and-one following a successful challenge, and answered with what was a weapon-spreading drive of their own, going 74 yards in 1:37.
Here’s three thoughts for the opening 30 minutes of action from Gillette Stadium…
Dominant start on both sides sets tone
The Patriots started their afternoon by forcing Kirk Cousins and the Vikings into a three-and-out, but immediately began their first drive with a false start on Rob Gronkowski. Against a Minnesota defense with as much talent as this one, that could have and should have spelled trouble for the Patriots. But from there, they went 86 yards on eight plays, and cashed in by way of a James Develin rushing touchdown pounded into the endzone. This was as efficient as it gets for the Patriots.
And it looked downright effortless.
On the drive, Brady went 4-for-5 for 70 yards, and consistently found the open man for more than a few yards after the catch. The Patriots also got Chris Hogan involved, which has been a rarity thing season, with an 18-yard grab that could have been for a lot had the referees flagged Minnesota cornerback Xavier Rhodes for an obvious facemask.
It’s an obvious note, sure, but that kind of opening drive — one with easy gains, quick pace, and everybody involved — often mean good things for the Pats. (Just look at how this played out in home victories over the Colts and Packers earlier this year.)
Patriots limit Minnesota offense… until final drive
The Vikings may have one of the best one-two punches in all of football with wide receivers Stefon Diggs and Adam Thielen, but you wouldn’t know it, as they have been held to almost nothing by the Patriot defense thus far. In fact, it’s hard to find much of anything that’s been done by a Viking ‘cept running back Dalvin Cook.
And up until their final drive, the Patriots had held Cousins and Co. to a 1-for-5 mark on third down in the opening half.
But given life behind a late-half stop on defense, Cousins found his groove with Diggs and Thielen, and was finally able to connect with Thielen in the endzone with just 15 seconds left in the second quarter. That’s a brutal blow for the Patriots, all things considered, as they had bottled Thielen up for almost the entire opening half, and were torched for seven points against on the one play he broke free from Jason McCourty. That’s as frustrating as it gets.
Nevertheless, holding that duo to a combined 45 yards on four catches (five targets) almost feels like a win.
1K for TB12
Finally, after 265 games and what felt like a year of waiting, Tom Brady has joined the league’s 1000-yard rusher club.
The 41-year-old Brady picked it all up on one rush, too, as he converted a third-down with a five-yard run, complete with a ‘first down’ celebration and all.
At this rate, Brady will hit 2,000 yards by his 35th season in the NFL, which actually seems completely reasonable.
The Patriots will receive the ball to begin the second half.