By Matt Dolloff, 985TheSportsHub.com
So what the hell was that in Tennessee, anyway?
Two games out of the bye, the Patriots' Week 10 dud against the Titans is looking more like an outlier - for the defense, anyway. Sunday was about this unit coming up huge at all levels against the Vikings and their myriad offensive weapons. At multiple points in the game, the Patriots' inconsistency and mistakes on offense forced the defense to keep the Vikings from taking control of the game. To start the fourth quarter, the Vikes faced a third-and-5 coming out of a timeout, and an opportunity to drive down the field and tie it up at 17.
Then Trey Flowers happened.
The first play of the fourth quarter was a long-awaited explosion by Flowers, who bounced around blockers on a stunt and burst through to Cousins. The quarterback toppled to the turf just as Flowers was getting to him. He had no chance.
— Binge Sports (@BingeSports) December 3, 2018
It was the kind of tone-setter and game-changer the Patriots defense needed at that point in the game, which was not as competitive as the 17-10 score indicated. The Vikings offense had not gotten much going all afternoon besides one explosive touchdown drive just before halftime, yet still had a chance to make it all even in the fourth. Flowers wasn't going to let that happen.
Flowers was merely one of the anchors of an excellent overall day for the defense up and down the roster. He feels that they're coming together as a unit just at the right time, as the Patriots look to elevate themselves like they usually do in December.
"I think a lot of the guys understand the urgency, just being able to amp up preparation and understand that now it's time for real football," said Flowers. "A lot of guys understand the urgency, coming together and working hard."
The Patriots looked like a well-prepared defense on Sunday, reacting well to what the Vikings offense was showing them and mixing up their own looks. It served to confuse Cousins, who ended up 32-of-44 for just 204 yards, one touchdown, and two interceptions - a 70.5 passer rating.
Cousins also held on to the ball too long at times, and credit for that is due to the play of the Patriots secondary. Besides his second-quarter touchdown (and an ill-advised confrontation with Bill Belichick), likely All-Pro receiver Adam Thielen was virtually a non-factor. He finished with five catches for 28 yards and the score, despite 10 targets. The Vikings' other big receiving threat, Stefon Diggs, played hurt and grabbed five largely inconsequential catches for 49 yards. Rookie cornerback J.C. Jackson performed admirably in an unusually prominent role, his biggest play coming on Duron Harmon's late interception that he tipped into the air in the end zone.
Cornerback Stephon Gilmore sounded like he'd heard all the hullabaloo about the Vikings and their stable of #weapons.
"We were motivated, we knew it wasn't going to be easy," said Gilmore. "We had a good week of practice and we were prepared and we came out and showed it today."
Since allowing 40 points to the Chiefs, the Patriots defense has averaged 18.5 points allowed in their last six games, and that includes the debacle in Nashville. The Patriots have held their opponents to 17 points or less in four of their last five. They haven't allowed a 300-yard passer since Patrick Mahomes in Week 6, or a 100-yard rusher since the Lions' Kerryon Johnson in Week 3.
The Patriots also dominated on third down against the Vikings, which hasn't been an area of consistency for them. Minnesota went just 3-for-12 on the afternoon in those situations. Flowers and the front-seven swarmed the line of scrimmage and short areas of the field, frequently switching things up and making Cousins look un-veteran-like in the process.
Even when the Vikings were able to come up with chunk plays, particularly on their stunning 74-yard touchdown drive that took just 1:37 at the end of the second quarter, the defense didn't waver like it felt they could after a disappointing end to the first half.
"Next-play mentality," Flowers described it. "We're playing in the NFL. So you've got to tip your hat to guys, and understand that they’re going to make some plays. You've just got to come back and be ready to make another play."
Flowers was most certainly ready for that.
On top of his sack to start the fourth quarter, Flowers nearly came up with a huge stop on fourth-and-1. He and Lawrence Guy stood up Latavius Murray at the line to gain, but the officials ruled it a first down on the field. They didn't have enough evidence to overturn the call on Bill Belichick's challenge.
But it didn't make the play by Flowers any less impressive. Had the officials simply ruled in their favor on the field, it would've been yet another big-time play for perhaps the big-time player on the Patriots defense.
In a superb afternoon for this group, Flowers continued to show why he's going to get paid this offseason, whether it's in New England or elsewhere. He just wanted to get back to the line and make plays, and he definitely accomplished that. And like we're used to seeing by now, he did it at a big-time moment in the game.
Matt Dolloff is a digital producer for 985TheSportsHub.com. Any opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of 98.5 The Sports Hub, Beasley Media Group, or any subsidiaries. Have a news tip, question, or comment for Matt? Follow him on Twitter @mattdolloff or email him at [email protected].