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Postgame, Week 8: Patriots 31 @ Minnesota 7

Minnesota No Match for New England
Big Plays in All Phases Lift Patriots on Monday Night
Pats Pass on Vikings Run D

Escaping notice in the sudden, unexpected (at least by Ron Borges) emergence of the passing game is another stellar performance by the New England Patriots defense. The most consistent unit on the team got help yesterday in obliterating Minnesota, 31-7, but the fact is: The D pitched a shutout.

Four interceptions, four sacks, 45 yards allowed on 15 carries (3.0 yards per carry). Superb.

Meanwhile, quarterback Tom Brady was a pedestrian 29 of 43 for 372 yards, 4 touchdowns (to 4 different receivers) and an interception, all good for a 115.6 passer rating. Oh, did I say "pedestrian"? I meant "spectacular." I guess the Deion Branch trade is really eating him up inside, eh, Ron?

New England running back Laurence Maroney levels a Minnesota defender
during the Patriots 31-7 shellacking on Monday Night Football.

Photos Courtesy:

That would be because Branch wasn't among the 10 different receivers who caught passes from Brady. Tight end Ben Watson had 7 receptions for 94 yards and a TD. Reche Caldwell, earlier dismissed by the "experts" as a San Diego castoff, had 7 catches for 84 yards and a touchdown. Doug Gabriel, similarly cast as an Oakland Raider dump-off, had 5 receptions for 83 yards.

Troy Brown had a pair of catches (one for a touchdown) drawing him to one catch behind Stanley Morgan for the Patriots career record. Rookie Chad Jackson had just one catch, but a great effort turned it into a 10-yard touchdown.

It's no surprise. Coming into the game, Minnesota had the top-ranked rushing defense in the league, and head coach Bill Belichick and staff knew it would be difficult if not impossible to win the game with the ground game. So they simply passed on it. And passed. And passed. And passed.

Dissection. Dismantling. Evisceration. Use whatever word you want. That's what Brady did to the Vikings defense.

Brady's 372 yards was his most in a game since Sept. 25, 2005, at Pittsburgh, where he threw for, um, 372 yards. His only game of more passing yards was Sept. 22, 2002, when he racked up 410 yards against Kansas City.

Brady now has 14 touchdown passes, one behind Peyton Manning and two behind Donovan McNabb. Brady has already thrown touchdowns to eight different receivers.

The offensive line did a fantastic job of blocking (all things -- like legitimate injuries -- considered), and a typical Brady avoided most of the rest of the pressure. He was sacked three times, but throwing 43 passes with a third-stringer at right guard, a backup a right tackle and one fewer tight end blocking? That's not too shabby.

Now to be fair, New England benefited by several questionable -- ok, let's face it: awful -- calls by Larry Nemers's officiating crew. The Patriots had a couple cheesy ones go against them, but Minnesota definitely got rooked. Not that an evenly called game would have changed the outcome, even a little.

New England Patriots cornerback Rodney Harrison (37)
celebrates with defensive teammates following his interception
on the goal line in Monday night's win over Minnesota.

Photos Courtesy:

The Vikings simply couldn't get anything going. And the brief time they had momentum, New England snuffed it out.

Just after Minnesota scored their only points of the game on a 71-yard Mewelde Moore punt return that cut the lead to 17-7 in the third quarter, Laurence Maroney nearly returned the favor with a 77-yard kickoff return that set up Brady to Brown three plays later, making the score 24-7 and effectively sealing the game.

Maroney had a couple nice runs in the midst of the aerial shelling, of which he was a part as well. Eight carries for 34 yards, 2 catches for 33 more, and 2 kickoff returns for 91. A few well-executed stiff-arms, and the kid trotted to another impressive outing.

Otherwise, New England gained a respectable 85 yards on 15 carries (5.7 yards per carry), but 35 came on one Heath Evans dash, and 85 is more what you expect from Maroney or Dillon alone, instead of the whole team. But against the former No. 1 run defense (now No. 2), that's a fair job.

New England, who had been best in the league entering the game in red zone offense, went 4 of 6 (plus a field goal) against Minnesota. Meanwhile, the defense allowed the Vikings in the red zone just once and held them scoreless, thanks to a Rodney Harrison interception on the goal line.

The Patriots did a much better job in the time of possession struggle from beginning to end. They maintained a reasonable margin early in the game and often had the advantage by a minute or two. The teams were exactly even at 15 minutes apiece at halftime, and trailed by only 30 seconds at game's end.

Placekicker Stephen Gostkowski had another uneventful game, which is good. He connected on a 23-yard field goal and all four extra points. He also had another touchback, where he remains near the top of the league.

And thus is set up next Sunday Night's matchup with 7-0 Indianapolis.


Now that the Patriots are 6-1 following Week 8, their final record will be ...

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