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Patriots vs. Vikings: Fan Notes from the Game

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Notes, musings, and observations from the New England Patriots’ 24-10 victory over the Minnesota Vikings.

Minnesota Vikings v New England Patriots Photo by Adam Glanzman/Getty Images

Happy December, everyone!

I’m glad I’m one of those people who enjoys the holidays. Usually, I’m on the receiving end of things I don’t care about getting stuffed down my throat at every turn. I couldn’t care less about Star Wars. I haven’t seen any of the new Marvel or DC movies and don’t plan to. I never used a fidget spinner or liked an Instagram post. So I usually have to just put the blinders on and try to mind my own business while everyone else freaks out about whatever is trending at that particular time. But luckily, I’m all about tacky lights, decorations, cheesy music, and all things holiday (although I could do without the influx of tourists, but what can you do). Hopefully you’re all in the same boat - and for those Pulpiteers who celebrate Hanukkah, I hope yours is off to a great start.

December is also a great month to be a Patriots fan. Not only do the Pats rarely lose in December, but it’s the time of the year when the games start to really matter and New England’s season starts in earnest. Amazingly, as of this article only two teams in the NFL - the Raiders and 49ers - have been mathematically eliminated from playoff contention, meaning that 30 of the 32 franchises are still technically alive. It should be an absolutely wild finish this season.

Luckily, the Patriots are well out of the absolute logjam that is the Wild Card race, and with yesterday’s victory over the Minnesota Vikings, they have maintained their position as the second seed and are still in control of their own bye week. Good thing, too, because the games aren’t going to get any easier over the next two weeks, so the Patriots really needed this one.

  • It’s been a bit of tumultuous few weeks in the life of one Alec Shane. I missed my first Patriots game of the 21st Century a few weeks back. I’ve been running around nonstop. We recently rescued a dog, and while he’s amazing, I finally met someone who poops more than I do, which means I’m constantly out walking the guy around. And with the holiday season in full swing, there isn’t a whole lot of time to come up for air. But yesterday afternoon finally saw me back at my own personal Valhalla, Paddy’s of Park Slope, where I was reminded once again how lucky we all are to have the chance to relax for a few hours and watch what used to be a great sport in professional football. As the NFL continues to exist as an organization of greed and unfathomable hypocrisy, it’s becoming harder and harder to justify giving it any of my time. But having a few pints and watching the games with good people at a great bar was an excellent reminder that a lot of good can still come out of this league. I’d love to see you all there some day.
  • As for the Patriots game...
  • Once again, it was...fine. The Patriots looked fine. This was another contest where I never really felt that the Vikings had a shot at any point, and the Patriots did more than enough to win.
  • The star of this offense is no longer James White - and honestly, it was shortsighted of me to praise him so vehemently in the early part of the year. The offensive MVP in 2018 was, and still is, James Develin. Sure, he got two TDs today and a huge 1st down pickup as a rusher, and sure, he hauled in a pass for nine yards..,.but what can’t this guy do? This is an offense that hinges on the running game, and Develin is that long metal bolt thingy that you hammer through the hinge to make sure it swings properly. He can lead block through any gap, pull into the flat if necessary, serve as a extra lineman/tight end, motion out wide, catch passes, and plow into the end zone if given the opportunity. Name another Patriots player who can do all of those things and do them well. I’ll wait.
  • The star runner of the day, of course, is Thomas Edward Patrick Brady, who FINALLY eclipsed 1,000 yards rushing. Brady is the most methodical, patient, disciplined quarterback of all time, which is why he wanted to make sure he took his time getting becoming TB1K. Another record he holds that likely won’t ever be broken is most games needed to reach 1,000 yards. The previous record holder, Y.A. Tittle, needed a paltry 161 games to get to 1,000. Tommy B did it in a much more respectable 265.
  • If my math is correct - and it probably isn’t - that means that in order to reach 1,000 yards, Brady averaged a whopping 3.78 rushing yards per game. Seeing that Brady is 6’4”, that basically means he tripped over his own feet and fell forward at the line of scrimmage once per game to reach this particular milestone.
  • At first, I was very excited by the offensive gameplan Josh McDaniels dialed up against Minnesota once in a while; a lot of trickery, a very eclectic mix of playcalling, effective use of the screen, and runs to keep the defense honest. It reminded me of a game I saw a few years ago against a fairly awful Redskins team where it felt like New England knew they were going to win it and thus wanted to dust off some stuff for the postseason.
  • However, once the 2nd quarter got going with the Patriots holding onto a very slim lead, I was really left scratching my head over what the adjustments were. Off-tackle James White runs with a healthy Michel and Burkhead on the sidelines. Slowly developing screens. Forgetting that the Vikings had a banged up secondary and waiting until late in the 3rd quarter to target Josh Gordon. they eventually figured it out, but there seems to be something a little off regarding offensive consistency this year, and I don’t know how much longer I can delude myself into thinking they’re going to put it all together in the postseason.
  • Trent Brown’s cap hit this year is $1.9 million, accounting for approximately 1% of the team’s salary cap. Nate Solder’s is $10 million. Please take a moment to allow that to sink in.
  • That said - I’d be amazed if Brown was on the team next year. That man is going to get PAID in the offseason, and deservedly so, and plus the Patriots drafted Isaiah Wynn this past year. But Brown is playing so well it might make for some very interesting discussion come March 2019.
  • My favorite Sony Michel ones are the ones where he’s stopped in the backfield by keeps his legs churning and picks up the first. The Patriots haven’t had a back that can do that since Corey Dillon - and includes all 250 lbs of LeGarrette Blount.
  • One thing I don’t think Julian Edelman gets enough credit for is his ability to diagnose the holes in zone defense and sit down in it at the perfect time. Brady is still missing him sometimes, but all concerns of Edelman not being able to bounce back from his ACL injury can be put to rest.
  • I don’t think I’ve ever seen a backfield quite like New England’s in 2018. They have four very, very different skillsets in Sony Michel, James White, Cordarrelle Patterson, and Rex Burkhead, and the versatility they can display depending on who is out there is pretty remarkable. It was very obvious that they’re still working Burkhead back into the system, but I’m very much hoping that they let him and White loose as a dual receiving threat back package.
  • Note to self: “dual receiving threat back package” sounds like Prohibtion-Era lingo for a bootleg operation.
  • I am on record, obnoxiously so, griping about the TD/commercial/scoring review/commercial/extra point/commercial/kickoff for touchback/commercial blitz that the NFL loves so much. And I thought I had seen it all by this point. But yesterday’s game saw us all enjoying a two minute warning/commercial/challenge/commercial/challenge won so actually not the two minute warning then running play to bring up the real two minute warning/commercial combo. Integrity!
  • To that end...there has to be a reason that Brady has stopped going for the sneak on down and very short. I legit can’t remember the last time he QB sneaked and it doesn’t make any sense to me. How is a direct snap to James White from a shotgun formation a higher probability play than Brady keeping it and falling forward for a yard? or plowing Michel up the gut behind Develin? Even a jet sweep to Patterson would have been fine.
  • The ease with which the Vikings scored a TD before the half is very concerning. New England kept bringing pressure, and Cousins stuck to his reads and marched down the field so easily the Vikings didn’t even need a third down. 6 of 60 for 69 yards, and a chance to double dip before the half got completely canceled out by bad playcalling and poor contain.
  • Overall, though, I thought the defense played very well. Stephon Gilmore and Jason McCourty held Diggs and Theilen, one of the best receiving duos in the league to 77 yards combined. 77 yards is usually a half’s worth of production for either of those guys, and neither were a factor at all. Diggs was a the leaging receiver for the Vikings at 49 yards.
  • And credit to the secondary for sure...but it was the pressure of front that threw Cousins off his game and forced him to release it early. There was a lot of blitzing in the first half, and when Cousins adjusted (as evidenced by their only TD drive of the day) Brian Flores dialed back bringing extra men and instead moved his linemen all over the place with disguised rushes and stunts. Trey Flowers saw time at nose tackle. Lawrence Guy lined up on the edge. Kyle van
  • Speaking of Van Noy...he has to be the Jack Klompus of this defense. An all-time underrated player who never gets the credit he deserves but has been as consistent and impactful as anyone over the past 10 years.
  • Unfortunately, though, the flip side of that equation is Rob Gronkowski. He’s just not himself. Can’t get separation on his routes. Looks constantly winded. Doesn’t seem to be that lovable doofus having a blast out there. Still an elite blocker, but I can’t say with confidence that he’s a player other teams have to specifically gameplan for. And yes, it’s easy to say that he’s still recovering from injury and not 100% back to football shape yet; I’ll buy that argument all day. But there’s also the reality that he’s 29 years old, has had multiple major surgeries, gets absolutely wailed on by DBs and linebackers every single season. His best playing years may very well be behind him, and as much as it breaks my heart to think about it, if I were him I’d start looking ahead to the next 50 years of my life and wonder how much worse those years will be if he keeps playing and getting beaten up.
  • It’s obvious now that Bill Belichick doesn’t trust his kick coverage team and is now specifically punting and kicking off to avoid any kind of return. And I’m totally fine with that, to be honest.
  • The Patriots are still a little too sloppy for my liking, and there were a few penalty-lengthened drives that could have been avoided - but for the most part, I was OK with the officiating yesterday. That said: absolutely HORRENDOUS call on the 4th down stop. They didn’t get it and it wasn’t even close. Not that it mattered, but still. It’s remarkable to me that there “wasn’t enough evidence” to overturn that one, and yet tons of “who the hell knows” calls all across the league gets overturned every week.
  • Also...it was the right call, but it’s kind of silly that the Kyle Rudolph catch that New England challenged stood. If that play had happened in the middle of the field, it’s 100% not a catch. But since it happened at the line and as Rudolph was falling out of bounds, it’s OK.
  • Duron Harmon gonna Duron Harmon. It’s getting to the point where, as Patriots fans, we not only DEMAND that this team win the division and get a first round bye and make a deep playoff run and win the Super Bowl every single year or else the entire season was a disaster, but we’re also demanding that the game doesn’t officially end until Harmon picks one off in the end zone to seal it.
  • Tommy B is now 5-0 lifetime against the Vikings. They are one of five teams Brady has never lost to in his career. The others are the Chicago Bears (5-0), the Dallas Cowboys (4-0), the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (4-0), and the Atlanta Falcons (5-0). I think the Falcons almost beat him, once, back in 2002 or something, but I can’t remember.
  • The Pats are now 9-3, guaranteeing them yet another season above .500, a streak they have kept going since 2001. They’re firmly in control of the AFC East, can clinch the division next week at Miami, and are well positioned for a playoff bye. And the remarkable thing is, the 2018 Patriots aren’t even that good. I mean they play well and they score points...but comparing this team to any unit of the last five or six years, I don’t think I’d rank them above any save the 2013 unit that got completely decimated by injuries. I think they would get absolutely curbstomped by the Saints or Rams should they end up playing one of them at any point.
  • The main reason I wrote that last note was so I can, hopefully, point out how very, very wrong I was in a few months.
  • And while I’m harnessing my inner Skip Bayless and spitting out some absurd hot takes, I’m going to go ahead and say it: Aaron Rodgers is overrated. He’s an incredible QB with tremendous athleticism and one of the most unique skillsets in the NFL - but that people put him above guys like Drew Brees in the GOAT conversation is just absurd. Rodgers is able to do things and make plays that are completely jaw dropping...but maybe people should stop to think that Rodgers wouldn’t need to evade a sack, scramble to his left, evade another sack, and throw across his body to thread a 12 inch gap to hit his receiver where only he can catch it if he had just hit his WIDE OPEN MAN in the flat on 3rd and 10 instead of throwing it in the dirt the play before. He lost to the Cardinals yesterday and is 0-37 when trailing by more than one point in the fourth quarter. “Miss the easy throws and then make spectacular throws to make up for it” isn’t a recipe for greatness.

These next two weeks - at Miami and at Pittsburgh - were the two weeks I dreaded the most when the schedule first came out. New England always has a very hard time winning at Miami, even with the chance to clinch the AFC East on the line - and the Steelers are going to beat them eventually. The good news is that if New England can win these next two games, odds are pretty good that they won’t have to travel again until very late January, possibly later.

Pats Pulpit Live Postgame Show: Patriots 24, Vikings 10

Welcome to the Pats Pulpit Live Postgame Show!

Posted by Pats Pulpit: For New England Patriots News on Sunday, December 2, 2018