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Instant analysis from the Patriots’ 33-26 loss to the Vikings

Related: Patriots vs. Vikings: New England can’t keep pace in 33-26 loss

NFL: New England Patriots at Minnesota Vikings Matt Krohn-USA TODAY Sports

The New England Patriots’ Thanksgiving trip to Minnesota ended in disappointment. The team of head coach Bill Belichick played some encouraging football but at the end of the day was unable to keep pace with the now-9-2 Vikings, falling 33-26.

With that being said, let’s dive a bit deeper into the Patriots’ fifth loss of the year.

The offense finds its rhythm — until it loses it again

The Patriots offense has struggled for much of the year, but it showed some significant improvement on Thursday night especially in the passing department. It all started at quarterback, where Mac Jones had arguably the best overall performance of his season.

Completing 26 of 37 pass attempts, Jones gained 342 yards through the air and found the end zone twice. He hit Nelson Agholor on the first possession of the day from 34 yards out, and later connected with Hunter Henry for a 37-yard catch-and-run. The sophomore also spread the ball around well, resulting in five different players gaining at least 60 receiving yards.

But while the unit looked good early on moving the ball and generating chunk plays, the usual issues reared their ugly heads again throughout the day: negative plays and insufficient red-zone execution doomed the Patriots offense, especially down the stretch with the Vikings pulling away.

In total, New England converted none of its three red zone trips into a touchdown — a familiar story. You can’t keep bringing field goals to a touchdown fight and expect to come out on top.

The pass rush stays too quiet

One week after he was sacked seven times and pressured on 60 percent of his dropbacks against Dallas, Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins enjoyed a comparatively stress-free day in the pocket. The Patriots did generate pressure and also took him down once courtesy of Josh Uche, but the pass rush as a whole did not have the same impact on the Minnesota offense it had in last week’s 40-3 beatdown.

That came as a surprise, not just because of that game. The Vikings, after all, also had to operate without their best offensive lineman: starting left tackle Christian Derrisaw missed the game with a concussion. New England, however, was unable to take advantage of the perceived mismatch.

New England finds no answers for Justin Jefferson

Minnesota’s Justin Jefferson being one of the best wide receivers in football was no secret entering this week’s game, but he made another strong case for himself as the NFL’s WR1. Jefferson was, at times, unguardable regardless of what New England threw his way.

The third-year wide receiver finished with nine receptions for 139 yards and a touchdown, but the numbers themselves tell only part of the story. Jefferson, after all, was able to pull off some spectacular catches yet again.

He split a double team at one point for a big 37-yard completion in the second quarter, and later held onto the ball through a tackle from Devin McCourty for 36 yards. Jefferson was arguably the best player on the field on Thursday night, with one of the best defenses in the league unable to contain him.

Sometimes you have to tip your cap. That is one of those times.

New England’s offensive line holds up well

One of the biggest areas of concern for the Patriots entering the game did not turn out to be too much of an issue: the New England offensive line actually held up quite well, despite center David Andrews’ thigh injury and Isaiah Wynn’s foot ailment forcing the two starters into inactivity.

Mac Jones was sacked three times, but he looked a lot more comfortable in the pocket and was able to go through his progressions while letting longer-developing plays unfold. Breakdowns still occurred, but the game as a whole is a step in the right direction for a unit that had a rough time the last three games.

Special teams is not so special

One week after the Patriots’ special teams operation was crucial in a 10-3 victory over the New York Jets, it played a key role in the team’s loss in Minnesota. On multiple occasions, the Vikings were able to get the upper hand in the game’s third phase — either through good plays by themselves or through New England errors.

There was, of course, a 97-yard kickoff return touchdown by Kene Nwangwu that saw the Vikings return man make a cut to the outside and sprint down the sideline without much opposition in his way. The score tied the game one play after New England had taken a 23-16 lead coming out of the half.

Another big miscue came on the Vikings’ eventual game-winning drive. The series appeared to have ended on a completion short of the sticks on 3rd-and-15, but the team was given another chance when Patriots rookie Pierre Strong Jr. was flagged for running into the kicker — a 5-yard penalty to move the chains in a 4th-and-3 situation. Three plays later, Minnesota was up 33-26.

Additionally, Patriots punter Michael Palardy had an uneven day while the punt return team that won the game against the Jets was also largely ineffective. The biggest play for the unit came on a 46-yard Marcus Jones kickoff return.

New England finally gets off the first-quarter schneid

In their first 10 games of the season, the Patriots have failed to score even a single touchdown in the first quarter. The streak finally came to an end against the Vikings thanks to a beautifully-executed opening drive.

Down 7-0, New England marched 75 plays in five yards — capped by a 34-yard touchdown pass from Mac Jones to Nelson Agholor. At least in part the play, and the entire series, was a sign of things to come from the Patriots’ passing game.

U.S. Bank Stadium remains a tough place for the Patriots

New England has now played in the Vikings’ state-of-the-art home arena twice, and both games ended in disappointment. Not only did the Thursday night loss drop the Patriots to 6-5 on the year, the team also lost a much more important contest in the stadium back in February 2018: Super Bowl LII against the Philadelphia Eagles took place in Minneapolis but also saw Bill Belichick’s squad come up short.

As a result of those two losses, he will have to continue waiting on a victory in a 51st NFL arena. Winning in 50 different stadiums is still an all-time record, but No. 51 has proven itself an elusive one.