I’m going to level with all of you, I’m in rough shape this morning. The Shane Family usually eats Thanksgiving dinner at around 2 or 2:30, which means I’m done eating by 4, passed out on the couch at 4:15, then awake and somewhat refreshed by the end of the Cowboys game. I get a bit of a second wind, grab a plate of leftovers, and settle in for the night game. It’s a system that has been working well for me for almost all of my life.
This year, though, scheduling conflicts made it so we couldn’t all get together until 4:30, which ended up throwing everything way off. I may or may not have tucked into the holiday spirits a little early, and with no food to absorb any of that holiday cheer until 4:30 things may or may not have gotten a little out of hand. We didn’t finish eating until 7, so I was in no shape to do much of anything by the time kickoff rolled around. I watched the whole game, and I have some notes for you all — but what follows is far from my best work.
Plus I have to gear up for USA vs. England in a few hours, and my father (who was born and raised in England) is already channeling his inner soccer hooligan and I haven’t even finished by coffee yet. So here’s hoping that you’re all getting into the charitable mood this holiday season and giving me a bit of a mulligan on these abbreviated Fan Notes.
- I know the Patriots dropped this one... but to be honest, these are the kind of losses you’re OK with, for the most part. The offense played its best game of the season and the Vikings are one of the top teams in the NFL.
- Plus, the Patriots win this game if a handful of plays go differently. That kick return for a touchdown was a momentum killer, and Pierre Strong Jr. kept what ended up being a touchdown drive alive with a running into the kicker penalty. Obviously the game went the way it went, and you can almost always say “If a few plays had gone differently we win this game,” so there’s no time for excuse-making. But it’s not like the Vikings blew them out here.
- Speaking of excuses... I don’t want to spend too much time dwelling on the Hunter Henry TD that wasn’t. It’s over and there’s no changing it now. And ultimately the Patriots had other opportunities to win the game and couldn’t do it; you never want to blame the refs for anything because it accomplishes nothing. So all I’ll say is:
- The Pittsburgh Steelers hit their tight end in a wildly similar fashion in 2018 to seemingly take the lead against the Patriots late in the game. It was ruled an incomplete pass by the technical letter of NFL law even though it probably should have been a catch, and so the NFL adjusted the rules to ensure that should a similar play, like, oh I don’t know... maybe a 3rd-and-goal catch by a tight end on Thanksgiving night for a huge momentum swing, happen in the future, it would be ruled a TD.
- I have lost count of the number of times over the years I have watched an NFL play, looked at every single replay angle available to me as a viewer, said to myself “absolutely nowhere is there clear, indisputable, incontrovertible evidence that the call on the field should not stand,” only to see the refs reverse the play anyway. Last night was just the latest example. I didn’t see a single angle that definitively proved that Henry’s hand wasn’t under the ball at all times. Yes it moved, but it’s allowed to move as long as it’s not touching the ground.
- But again, it is what it is. Moving on.
- New England held Dalvin Cook to 42 yards on 22 carries, good for under two yards per attempt, and the Vikings as a whole to 57 yards on the ground. They also only allowed 171 yards through the air to everyone not named Justin Jefferson. The pass rush just couldn’t get home, which ultimately ended up being the deciding factor.
- I also should say that the Patriots DBs ultimately lost their individual battles to some very good receivers. Adam Thielen and Justin Jefferson are one of the best WR duos in the league, and without a consistent pass rush it’s just too much to ask for the corners to cover for that long.
- As fun as it is to watch a receiver like Justin Jefferson do Justin Jefferson things, every time I see it I look at the list of receivers New England has drafted high over the years and wonder what the hell the front office sees in those guys and why they can’t for the life of them find a similar pass catcher. The repo man isn’t coming for Tyquan Thornton and his eight catches for 86 yards on the season yet, of course... but you have to wonder if he’s going to be in the neighborhood and asking questions before too long.
- But again, you have to be happy with what you saw overall from the offense last night. It took until Week 12, but the Patriots finally scored a first-quarter touchdown. And I don’t know exactly what happened between last week and last night, but the Patriots seemed to have an offensive line for the first time all season. The Jets are a great defense, sure... but the Vikings can’t be so far beneath them that they made this line look competent like that.
- It might be that the play-action was working so well. There also seemed to be better timing on the routes, as the All-22 showed a refreshing number of receivers turning around just as Mac Jones finished his dropback.
- But let’s all be honest: the Vikings got the ball, drove right down the field and scored, and we were all thinking “New England is going three-and-out here with a sack, Minnesota is going to score again, and that’s going to be the game.” But New England put together its best offensive drive of the season, Mac Jones threw some absolute dimes, and you just kind of had a feeling that maybe there’s a chance for this offense.
- I’d love to see them build off of this by getting Parker more involved on the sidelines, getting Kendrick Bourne the ball in space more, taking at least one of two deep shots to Thornton, and... well... something with Jonnu Smith. Maybe he can find a home as a full-time fullback.
- Bill Belichick loves talking about situational football. With that in mind, I wonder how much time he has spent this season working on 3rd-and-15 plays in practice.
- I feel like Agholor should have had that 4th-and-14 pass that more or less ended the game. He seemed to have separation and Jones put it where only he could get it — I just don’t know if they had the timing and communication down perfectly. Agholor seemed to kind of stop instead of continue the route.
- I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say that New England’s special teams unit may have cost them this game. The kick return and a the running into the kicker penalty aside, it was another weak day for the punt unit and the field position battle was in favor of Minnesota. The two things you could set your watch by with the Patriots — disciplined football and special teams play — are liabilities this year and it’s really weird.
- I want to end this positively and so I will. Mac Jones was dealing last night and it may have been his best game as a pro. He took advantage of his clean pockets and made decisive throws to receivers who weren’t the check-down option. The offense didn’t lose this game for the Patriots and that’s the first time I can say that in 2022.
- I don’t know about any of you... but I like Thanksgiving night Patriots games when they’re over by halftime and the opposing QB Buttfumbles is way into the history books.
- If I learned nothing else from this game, I learned that I can almost never spell Minnesota right on the first try. I don’t know why my brain insists it’s “Minessota,” but that’s what I type first every time.
- And if I’ve learned nothing else from this Patriots season, it’s that they really struggle to neutralize whatever their opponent’s best weapon is. Josh Allen is going to rush for 150 yards next week.
- If the Patriots miss the playoffs this year, there’s a chance we’ll be able to point to that Pierre Strong Jr. penalty as the thing that ultimately ended up doing it. It may be the Damien Harris Week 1 goal line fumble of 2021 for this season. Time will tell. That’s going to stick with me.
The Patriots have a full week to get ready for a Buffalo Bills team that has looked very mortal over these past few games. There’s virtually no room for error anymore, and 3-3 over these last six games might not be enough for a playoff berth given the way the AFC is shaking out. New England is going to have to take one of these two games against Buffalo, and I like their chances at home in December way better than I like their chances on the road the last week of the season when the No. 1 seed may be on the line. So, let’s move on and get ready to fight.
Hope everyone had a great holiday.