By Matt Dolloff, 985TheSportsHub.com
This feels too much like one of those "A win is a win" games, because the way the Vikings looked for most of the afternoon in Foxboro, it looked like the Patriots should have won by 30. But you'll certainly take another 14-point win and a 9-3 record, including 6-0 at home.
Here are some takeaways for a strong overall performance for the Patriots against a Vikings team that, while talented and relatively well-coached, weren't ready to take a W in this kind of spot.
-- Trey Flowers comes up big. Flowers sacked Kirk Cousins for a 10-yard loss to start the fourth quarter. The offense followed that up with a touchdown to put the Patriots up 14 points for good. Flowers nearly stuffed Latavius Murray on a fourth-and-1 try, too, but the conversion was upheld after review. Flowers had another largely disruptive day up front as he continued to prove himself as a big-time talent for the Patriots defense.
-- Have a day, James Develin. The Patriots fullback provided a bit of foreshadowing to his game in Week 10 against the Titans, when he punched it in from the 1-yard line for his first touchdown of the season. He pulled it off twice this time, as the Vikings simply couldn't hold big No. 46 back. Develin scored two of the Patriots' three touchdowns in the game, further proving his worth as a short-yardage ball-carrier. Sony Michel hasn't been great in those spots so far this season, but Develin could be emerging as a consistently viable option at the goal line - at least until a team can figure out how to stop it. The Vikings certainly couldn't. He was a bright spot for an otherwise up-and-down day for the offense, though. About that...
-- Mistakes by the offense keeps it close for Vikings. The Patriots weren't in much danger of actually losing when Tom Brady threw his first interception of the game with 5:25 left in the fourth quarter. But it was emblematic of a strange game for the Patriots offense, which at times looked unstoppable but at other times couldn't get out of its own way. If they moved the ball as well as they did on their three touchdown drives, this game would've been an embarrassing beatdown for the Vikings. A two-TD win for the Pats and you could argue that they won it on defense. More on the offense, though.
-- Head-scratching play-call swings end of first half. It's easy to second-guess after a bold play call doesn't work out. But on third down with just one yard to gain, Josh McDaniels calls for a direct snap to James White, who's easily wrapped up for no gain. It forced the Patriots to punt back to the Vikings, who responded with a 74-yard touchdown drive in just 1:37. The game could've easily been 13-0 or 17-0 Patriots at the half if not for the botched third down play. It kept a game that didn't feel competitive for most of the first half way closer than it should've been at the time.
Not to pile on the offense, but...
-- Penalties, inconsistency hold offense back. Uncharacteristic sloppiness hurt the Patriots on many offensive drives. This was a carry-over from Week 12 against the Jets, where excessive flags slowed them down for much of the game. One particularly ugly drive came in the third quarter with the Patriots up 10-7. A false start by Sony Michel started the drive, and holding penalties by Rob Gronkowski and Joe Thuney helped to stall out a promising-looking chance at more points. It's un-Patriot-like to see the offense that out-of-sorts, even if they do eventually figure it out.
This game sort of mirrored the Patriots' 31-17 win over the Packers in Week 9 on the offensive side of the ball. They started off with a great opening drive, which was followed by about 42 minutes of inconsistency, followed by floodgates late in the third quarter and into the fourth. They were certainly good enough, and 24 points is nothing to sneeze at. The continued drive-to-drive inconsistency is just strange to watch.
However, if it's the offense and not the defense that has the most to work on, that's not a bad spot for a Tom Brady-led team to be at. At the end of the day, they're 9-3 and coming up with big plays when they need them the most.
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].