New England Patriots

  • After sitting through Thanksgiving dinners getting needled with questions from rarely-seen relatives, Patriots fans sat down to watch their team take on the Vikings Thursday night. In the spirit of those earlier conversations, the game probably felt familiar as the Pats fell 33-26 in a back-and-forth, nail-biting kind of night.

    This game really wasn’t great for the post Thanksgiving feat heartburn. All 12 scores either tied the game or gave a team a lead, the most such scores in an NFL game in five years.

    So, what did we learn in this one? Here’s a Thanksgiving edition of postgame takeaways…

  • Kirk Cousins was prime in primetime

    MINNEAPOLIS, MINNESOTA - NOVEMBER 24: Kirk Cousins #8 of the Minnesota Vikings throws a pass against the New England Patriots during the first half at U.S. Bank Stadium on November 24, 2022 in Minneapolis, Minnesota. (Photo by Adam Bettcher/Getty Images)

    MINNEAPOLIS, MINNESOTA – NOVEMBER 24: Kirk Cousins #8 of the Minnesota Vikings throws a pass against the New England Patriots during the first half at U.S. Bank Stadium on November 24, 2022 in Minneapolis, Minnesota. (Photo by Adam Bettcher/Getty Images)

    ‘Primetime Kirk Cousins‘ is a popular meme among NFL fans, but it wasn’t the case Thursday night. Cousins was excellent in this game, going 30-for-37 for 299 yards with three touchdowns and a pick.

    Cousins didn’t just sling the ball around the field, he did so while being unbothered by pressure for most of the night. Coming into the game, turning up the heat on Cousins was one of the keys to the game for the Patriots – especially given Minnesota was without its starting left tackle Christian Darrisaw. Cousins passer rating this season dropped by about 30 points this season coming into this game when he was throwing from under pressure compared to from in the pocket.

    While Cousins’ lone miscue came with pressure at his feat, but that rush was inconsistent. Despite coming into the game with the second-most team sacks in the NFL, the Patriots only got to Cousins once, on the first play of the fourth quarter. In total they only hit him four times. That lack of contact allowed him to get into a rhythm, and it showed.

  • Justin Jefferson is the real deal

    MINNEAPOLIS, MINNESOTA - NOVEMBER 24: Justin Jefferson #18 of the Minnesota Vikings catches a pass against Jonathan Jones #31 and Devin McCourty #32 of the New England Patriots during the fourth quarter at U.S. Bank Stadium on November 24, 2022 in Minneapolis, Minnesota. (Photo by David Berding/Getty Images)

    MINNEAPOLIS, MINNESOTA – NOVEMBER 24: Justin Jefferson #18 of the Minnesota Vikings catches a pass against Jonathan Jones #31 and Devin McCourty #32 of the New England Patriots during the fourth quarter at U.S. Bank Stadium on November 24, 2022 in Minneapolis, Minnesota. (Photo by David Berding/Getty Images)

    When Cousins was throwing the ball, his favorite target was unsurprisingly Justin Jefferson. Jefferson finished the game with nine catches for 139 yards and a score. With that performance. Jefferson is now at 4,203 receiving yards for his career – a number that broke Randy Moss’ previous record for the most by a player through their first three seasons.

    That stat line wasn’t the result a lack of effort or focus from the Patriots’ defense. They threw a lot of different looks at him, from traditional double coverage to brackets to using safety help over the top, and sometimes even combining those concepts. None of it mattered though, as Jefferson kept making highlight play after highlight play.

    As safety Devin McCourty pointed out after the game, the Patriots will need to refine their plan for star wide receivers down the stretch. Their remaining games include matchups with Stefon Diggs (twice with the Bills, including next week), DeAndre Hopkins (Cardinals), Davante Adams (Raiders), and Tyreek Hill (Dolphins).

  • Getting Mac Jones going

    Nov 24, 2022; Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA; New England Patriots quarterback Mac Jones (10) throws a pass against the Minnesota Vikings during the first quarter at U.S. Bank Stadium. Credit: Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports

    Nov 24, 2022; Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA; New England Patriots quarterback Mac Jones (10) throws a pass against the Minnesota Vikings during the first quarter at U.S. Bank Stadium. Credit: Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports

    As tough as this loss was for the Patriots, it’s hard to deny that is was one of Mac Jones‘ best games as a pro. He completed 28-of-39 passes for a career-high 382 yards with two touchdowns. He didn’t turn the ball over and was only sacked three times – once in garbage time.

    What was different for Jones in this game? One thing that stood out on the initial viewing of the game was he was getting the ball out of his hands much quicker than usual. The Patriots used a number of quick passing concepts, then built on those with play-action and RPO looks. That combination upset the timing of the pass rush, helping the offensive line further and resulting in more solid pockets once the Patriots did decide to throw the ball down the field. That all culminated in Jones have seven pass completions of over 20 yards on the night.

  • Filling in for Jakobi Meyers

    MINNEAPOLIS, MINNESOTA - NOVEMBER 24: Jakobi Meyers #16 of the New England Patriots catches a pass against the Minnesota Vikings during the third quarter at U.S. Bank Stadium on November 24, 2022 in Minneapolis, Minnesota. (Photo by David Berding/Getty Images)

    MINNEAPOLIS, MINNESOTA – NOVEMBER 24: Jakobi Meyers #16 of the New England Patriots catches a pass against the Minnesota Vikings during the third quarter at U.S. Bank Stadium on November 24, 2022 in Minneapolis, Minnesota. (Photo by David Berding/Getty Images)

    What made Jones’ big day all the more impressive was he did it without his top target for most of the game. Jakobi Meyers hurt his shoulder on the Patriots’ first drive, and played sparingly from there on out. He finished the game with three catches for 65 yards on just four targets. That left the team testing its depth at one of the most pivotal spots in the passing game.

    For most of the game, it looked as though Nelson Agholor was tasked with filling that role. That came with mixed results. The highlight was the seam route he ran from the slot for an early touchdown – the speed slot concept is one Jones excelled throwing to at Alabama.

    However, Agholor failed to make some of the more physical catches Meyers has become seemingly automatic at, including a drop on a 2nd & 9 in the fourth quarter on a textbook Meyers play. Two plays later the Patriots were forced to punt the ball away in a tie game, and Minnesota led from there on out.

    Meyers’ status will be one to watch in the coming days. The Patriots won’t have the typical rest after a Thursday game with a home matchup with the Bills next Thursday, and Meyers’ performance will be difficult to duplicate if he can’t go in that one.

  • Third downs tell the story

    Nov 24, 2022; Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA; Minnesota Vikings wide receiver Justin Jefferson (18) celebrates a first down against the New England Patriots during the second quarter at U.S. Bank Stadium. Credit: Matt Krohn-USA TODAY Sports

    Nov 24, 2022; Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA; Minnesota Vikings wide receiver Justin Jefferson (18) celebrates a first down against the New England Patriots during the second quarter at U.S. Bank Stadium. Credit: Matt Krohn-USA TODAY Sports

    This is the part where we get deep into the situational football element of this game. As a warning, it’s not going to be very kind to the Patriots.

    Let’s start on third downs. The Vikings converted eight of their 15 third down tries, including three of their six in Patriots territory. Meanwhile the Patriots were 3-of-10. That included failing to convert four of their final five attempts and three of the four in the fourth quarter, with a garbage time completion to Meyerson the final play of the game the only exception.

    To this point in the season, the Patriots’ third down defense has among the best in the league. The Patriots came in ranked ninth in the NFL holding their opponents to just a 36.9 percent conversion rate. Offensively, third downs remain a struggle, as they are 7-for-25 on third downs since returning from the bye week.

  • Special teams giveth, and special teams taketh away

    MINNEAPOLIS, MINNESOTA - NOVEMBER 24: Jalen Nailor #83 of the Minnesota Vikings tackles Marcus Jones #25 of the New England Patriots during the fourth quarter at U.S. Bank Stadium on November 24, 2022 in Minneapolis, Minnesota. (Photo by David Berding/Getty Images)

    MINNEAPOLIS, MINNESOTA – NOVEMBER 24: Jalen Nailor #83 of the Minnesota Vikings tackles Marcus Jones #25 of the New England Patriots during the fourth quarter at U.S. Bank Stadium on November 24, 2022 in Minneapolis, Minnesota. (Photo by David Berding/Getty Images)

    Last week, the special teams unit were the heroes for the Patriots. This week, not so much.

    A kickoff return touchdown highlighted the Patriots’ special teams issue, but it was hardly the only example of a missed opportunity for the group. Michael Palardy failed to follow up his solid Patriots debut. He averaged 37.3 net yards per punt on this three punts, including one he seemed to mishit.

    There were also a pair of mental lapses from rookies on punt plays. Running back Pierre Strong ran into Vikings punter Ryan Wright on a 4th & 3, giving Minnesota a fresh set of downs in the fourth quarter that eventually led to the game-winning touchdown.

    When the defense forced a punt later in the game, the Patriots were set up for one final drive with about a minute left an no timeouts. However, last week’s hero Marcus Jones fielded a punt on the one-yard line instead of letting it bounce into the end zone for a touchback. That return took time off the clock and created a longer field for the offense.

    After both plays, Bill Belichick was visibly upset on the sideline. Could we see any shakeups in the kicking game moving forwards?

  • More mistakes

    MINNEAPOLIS, MINNESOTA - NOVEMBER 24: Hunter Henry #85 of the New England Patriots carries the ball for a touchdown against the Minnesota Vikings during the third quarter at U.S. Bank Stadium on November 24, 2022 in Minneapolis, Minnesota. (Photo by David Berding/Getty Images)

    MINNEAPOLIS, MINNESOTA – NOVEMBER 24: Hunter Henry #85 of the New England Patriots carries the ball for a touchdown against the Minnesota Vikings during the third quarter at U.S. Bank Stadium on November 24, 2022 in Minneapolis, Minnesota. (Photo by David Berding/Getty Images)

    The Patriots’ mental mistakes didn’t only come on special teams. There were a handful of miscues on offense and defense that added up as well.

    In this case, the most notable examples come from the Patriots’ final drive of the first half. Trying to set up a two-minute drill and double score, the Patriots put themselves in a tough spot in terms of clock management. First, Hunter Henry failed to get out of bounds on a catch-and-run up the sideline, forcing the team to burn a timeout. A few plays later, Jones failed to throw the ball away and took a sack instead, burning up the Patriots’ final timeout. Ultimately, they settled for a field goal.

    On defense, the Patriots committed five penalties (they had six total, with the Strong penalty being the other), including some unforced errors. There were some coverage lapses as well, including on Adam Thielen’s go-ahead touchdown.

  • The referees

    MINNEAPOLIS, MINNESOTA - NOVEMBER 24: Mac Jones #10 of the New England Patriots reacts towards referee Alex Kemp #55 during the fourth quarter against the Minnesota Vikings at U.S. Bank Stadium on November 24, 2022 in Minneapolis, Minnesota. (Photo by David Berding/Getty Images)

    MINNEAPOLIS, MINNESOTA – NOVEMBER 24: Mac Jones #10 of the New England Patriots reacts towards referee Alex Kemp #55 during the fourth quarter against the Minnesota Vikings at U.S. Bank Stadium on November 24, 2022 in Minneapolis, Minnesota. (Photo by David Berding/Getty Images)

    Personally, I hate pinning the outcome of a game on the officials. I believe that ultimately bad calls tend to even out, whether it be within a game, from game-to-game, or maybe even the course of multiple seasons. Ball don’t lie.

    Still, sometimes there’s a game that is officiated so atrociously, it just has to be discussed. My rule of thumb is I allow myself one sporting event total each calendar year to blame on officials. Unfortunately I already used up that game for 2022 on Game 3 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals between the Celtics and Bucks – but now I’m thinking that declaration may have been premature.

    Alex Kemp’s crew came in calling more penalties this year than any other crew in the NFL to this point. But it wasn’t the volume of the calls that was the issue (they actually called two less than their per game average for the season) but the inconsistency.

    This was no more apparent than on a key fourth-quarter drive for the Patriots, their first possession after falling behind 33-26. On the final third down of that drive, there were multiple easily apparent penalties including Jones getting his facemask grabbed and Henry seemingly getting interfered with down the field.

    There was also a missed holding call on the Vikings kickoff return touchdown. Kyle Dugger clearly gets held at the point of attack.

    Finally, there was the questionable overturning of an apparent Henry touchdown in the third quarter. You can find more on that play here.

    Ultimately, the Patriots will tell you they need to control what they can control, and not let the game get to a point where the officials can make or break it for them. While that is true, they certainly has less margin for error than usual on Thursday.

  • Playoff picture

    MINNEAPOLIS, MINNESOTA - NOVEMBER 24: ead coach Bill Belichick of the New England Patriots looks on prior to a game against the Minnesota Vikings at U.S. Bank Stadium on November 24, 2022 in Minneapolis, Minnesota. (Photo by Adam Bettcher/Getty Images)

    MINNEAPOLIS, MINNESOTA – NOVEMBER 24: ead coach Bill Belichick of the New England Patriots looks on prior to a game against the Minnesota Vikings at U.S. Bank Stadium on November 24, 2022 in Minneapolis, Minnesota. (Photo by Adam Bettcher/Getty Images)

    This loss dropped the Patriots to 6-5. That temporarily takes them out of the playoff picture, pending Sunday’s results.

    The Jets, Bengals, and Chargers remain the teams to watch for Patriots fans. The Jets play the Bears, the Bengals play the Titans, and the Chargers play the Cardinals this weekend. Losses by two of those three teams will keep the Patriots in the playoff picture for now, with the two head-to-head wins over the Jets still being a major factor.

    Despite this loss, the Patriots still control their own destiny for a playoff spot – meaning if they win out they will make the postseason.

    That’s easier said than done though, as they have one of the toughest remaining schedules in the NFL. Next up is another Thursday night game, this time against the Buffalo Bills at Gillette Stadium.

  • Alex Barth is a writer and 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. Thoughts? Comments? Questions? Looking for a podcast guest? Let him know on Twitter @RealAlexBarth or via email at abarth@985TheSportsHub.com.