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Week 8 Patriots vs Vikings: The Good, The Bad and The Ugly

The Patriots broke free in the second half to win a big game against the Vikings. The victory leaves the Patriots in sole possession of first place in the AFC East. Here are some notes from the game:

The Ugly

Select Patriots Fans at the Game: I can understand the jeering at a player's introduction. I'll forgive the "BS" chant after a terrible call. I just don't understand the "boos" for Brett Favre. Yeah, he's a lousy teammate. Yeah, he has a need to be in the spotlight. Yeah, he's made terrible off-field decisions. No football player deserves to have their injuries cheered. For the fans who openly cheered- not cool.

First Half Run Offense: The Patriots ran for 11 yards rushing the first half. The offensive line was not creating holes for either Danny Woodhead or BenJarvus Green-Ellis. This unit needs to solidify itself earlier in games and it needs to start opening holes. Dan Connolly needs to work on his pull blocking.

First Half First Down Offense: The Patriots struggled on first down for most of the game. Apart from the 32 yard circus catch by Brandon Tate, that should have been an interception, Tom Brady was 2/7 for 11 yards on first down for the whole game. That's putting the offense in a hole for the rest of the downs. In the first half, the Patriots ran the ball 5 times for 6 yards on first down. This is a key to their first half struggles- clean up their first down production and the rest of the offense will have a lot more room to work.

Dane Fletcher on That One Punt Return: You know the one. Zoltan Mesko had made a phenomenal kick that would have kept the Vikings on their 10ish yard line. It looks like a player (Fletcher) is on his way to down the ball. He reaches the ball. The ball shoots out of the back of the end zone, giving the Vikings the ball on the 20 yard line. Instead of netting 40 yards on the punt, the punt only nets 30 yards. Vikings drive down the field and bring the game to a score of 21-18. Just saying.

Read the Bad and the Ugly after the Jump!

The Bad

Second Effort Pass Rush: Brett Favre was on a bum ankle and was knocked down 6 times. The Patriots did a solid job of flushing him out of the pocket, but let him get the pass off too many times. It seemed that every time Favre got out of the pocket, the defenders would let him go and challenge him to make the throw. Spoiler: Favre's still a good quarterback, regardless of his ankle. He was able to resettle himself out of the pocket and find the receiver down the field. Favre is notorious for making bad decisions, but most of those terrible decisions come with a hand in his face and a defender bearing down on him. The Patriots need to work on continuing their pass rush even after the quarterback has left the pocket.

First Quarter Run Defense: The Patriots let Adrian Peterson run wild in the first quarter and it seemed like he would easily reach 100 yards. 61 yards in the first quarter and a 1 yard touchdown run on the first play of the second quarter. It was painful to watch. The Patriots featured a line of Brandon Deaderick, Vince Wilfork and Mike Wright in the first quarter. The Patriots decided to switch in Ron Brace and Gerard Warren in the 2nd quarter and the Patriots were able to stifle their running attack for the rest of the game. As I've said before, Mike Wright is a liability against the run. The Patriots were extremely successful against the run with Wright on the bench, so I don't see why they decided to put him on defense against the best running back in the league. Ron Brace and Brandon Deaderick are almost interchangeable in my opinion (Brace is stronger in run defense, Deaderick is stronger in pass defense), but Gerard Warren is much, MUCH better than Wright.

Tight Ends in the Pass Offense: The Patriots decided to abandon their tight ends in the passing game. I have no idea why. The three tight ends had zero receptions in the first half. In the second half, as soon as Rob Gronkowski caught a ball, BJGE was able to run through holes all over the Vikings defense. Why? Because Tight Ends spread the defense and forces the linebackers to spy the tight end and leave some room for the running backs. As soon as the offense involves both the tight end and the wide receivers in the same game, the offense will be extremely productive.

Penalties: The Vikings got 3 first downs off of penalties. A lot of times, their penalties extended their drives (Roughing the Passer, Illegal Contact) or killed Patriots' drives. On the flip side, Brandon Meriweather made a fantastic penalty to prevent a Randy Moss touchdown that still totally could have been a touchdown. The defense went on an all out blitz to rush Favre, leaving Moss single covered with Meriweather. Moss would have gotten a touchdown if Meriweather hadn't interfered with his route and prevented a touchdown catch. Sadly (good for the Patriots), Moss was still within a foot or two of where the ball landed, which means that I think he could still have caught the ball for a touchdown.

The Wind: Kickoffs were brutal when Stephen Gostkowski was kicking into the wind. Zoltan Mesko's punts were awful into the wind. On the flip side, both players were fantastic going with the wind.

The Good

Devin McCourty: What to say? McCourty is a lockdown corner and I can't wait to see him paired up with Leigh Bodden next season. He had a fantastic interception/rip-away. He knocked down 3 passes. THREE. No other player on the team has 3 passes defended on the SEASON. This kid is for real, folks.

Brandon Tate: He was fantastic. He had two extremely heads up plays on offense. First, on a terrible Tom Brady throw that should have been intercepted, the ball was tipped in the air after bouncing off a defenders chest. Tate kept his focus on the ball and juggled the ball until it was in his possession. The part of the play that made it special was the fact that he kept his eyes on the ball and didn't start moving until he had the ball. He just as easily could have turned his head and tried to run into the end zone (no one was downfield), but that would have led to a drop. Great play. The second was keeping a play alive when the protection for Tom Brady disintegrated. Tate kept the play alive by faking his defender and turning down the field. Two great plays and two plays that show how important Tate needs to be for this offense. I still wouldn't mind Tate to be used on screens in the same way the Vikings used Percy Harvin.

Jake Ingram: Not much to say, other than this young player shook off a couple terrible weeks and had himself a solid game.

Jerod Mayo + Brandon Spikes: Mayo still needs to work on his pass defense, but these two players were ferocious against the run. When these players are behind a solid defensive line against the run (as in, Warren instead of Wright), these two were making play stopping tackles. Adrian Peterson struggled to gain yards when these two players were able to watch the gaps.

Vince Wilfork: Wilfork rarely makes tackles because his job is to allow other players to make plays. Today, Wilfork had 5 tackles, which is fantastic. He makes the defensive line work and when he's paired with a couple 2 gap heavy weights, there's no offensive line that can stop them. Wilfork is an awesome player and has been well-worth his contract.

No Turnovers: The Patriots didn't turn the ball over for the second straight week. This ball control wins games. For the second straight week, the Patriots were able to overcome a 10 minute difference in "time of possession" due to their control of the football. No turnovers = success for the Patriots.

Underneath vs Over the Top: The Patriots successfully eliminated the big play for the whole game. Adrian Peterson didn't run for over 10 yards on a single play. Randy Moss was contained for 1 catch for 8 yards. The Vikings were stuck throwing the ball underneath the whole game, which controls the game clock and prevents the Vikings from getting a pace-changing, momentum-altering play. In such a close game, having control of the clock (even on defense) and momentum is the same as having control of the game.

2nd Half Offensive Balance: The Patriots were able to run a smooth offense in the second half. The Patriots started to throw the ball to wide receivers, running backs and tight ends, as well as run the ball. They managed to balance their offense in the 2nd half and a successful offense breeds a successful offense. One good play feeds another and the Patriots were feeding themselves in the second half. They had 9 passing first downs and 9 rushing first downs, a sign of great balance and a sign that opposing defenses need to worry about what play the Patriots will be running on crucial downs.

Fact of the Game: Patriots have yet to allow a running back to gain 100 yards this season.

On to the Browns!