The New England Patriots let a winnable game slip out of their grasp in Minnesota on Thanksgiving night. It was a frustrating game to watch from that perspective, but let’s get into our takeaways from the 33-26 loss to the Vikings.
Turns out Mac Jones is pretty good when he has an offensive line in front of him: Mac Jones finally had some good blocking — until the last two drives, of course — in front of him, and he had, by far, the best game of his season. Sure, it tailed off a bit in the fourth quarter, but he played well enough for the Patriots to get a win Thursday night, and they just couldn’t close the deal.
All in all, he completed 28 of 39 pass attempts for 382 yards and a pair of touchdowns (he also should have had another score to Hunter Henry). His ability to get the ball out quickly and also make accurate throws downfield was impressive.
The Patriots offense moved the ball up and down the field on Thursday, and Jones has played much better as of late. The hope is that he keeps playing well, because they are likely going to need to score some points next week to stand a chance against the Buffalo Bills.
The offensive line can bounce back from its recent issues: Other than the two sacks it gave up toward the end of the game when the Vikings knew they had to air it out, the Patriots offensive line played pretty well. The group were able to open up a few holes for the running backs, although not super consistently, and they kept Mac Jones pretty much clean for three quarters.
They are going to need to play 60 minutes of good football moving forward, especially against a tough Bills front next week, but it was definitely a step in the right direction for a unit that had been borderline terrible this year. That all of that happened without starting center David Andrews is certainly encouraging.
Rhamondre Stevenson can handle a big workload: Their best offensive player was at it again for the Patriots. Stevenson only carried the ball seven times for 36 yards, but he led the team in receiving again with nine catches for 76.
The second-year back is nearly impossible to bring down with the first tackler in the open field, and he almost always makes the right play with the ball in his hands. More responsibility may fall on his shoulders moving forward, as Damien Harris was seen in the locker room on crutches after the game, but Stevenson has shown an ability to handle it.
The injury bug keeps biting the Patriots: Damien Harris, who has missed a good chunk of time this season already, looks to have once again been injured on Thursday night. We will see how serious his thigh issue turns out to be, but any absence is going to test the depth at running back for the Patriots.
Jakobi Meyers also got banged up during the game, but he fought through and kept playing. He visible was not 100 percent, so one has the hope his shoulder issue is not anything that is going to hold him out of any future games.
The run defense is quite solid: We will talk about the pass defense in a second, but the Patriots stifled one of the better running backs in the league on Thursday. Dalvin Cook had 22 carries for only 42 yards, and the Vikings could never get anything going on the ground.
That didn’t stop Kirk Cousins from having success on play action, but the ability to stop the run and make the Vikings one-dimensional was important — at least in theory. After all, it ended up not mattering because New England just couldn’t stop the passing game. It was an impressive performance by the run defense regardless, though.
New England’s pass rush was non-existent: The Patriots came into the game with the NFL’s leader in sacks, and had been getting after the quarterback at a feverish pace the last few games. That ended on Thursday, when they were only able to get to Cousins for one sack, and almost never pressured him. In fact, the one time they got pressure near his feet he threw a bad pick to Jonathan Jones.
The defense, and especially Matthew Judon, had been a nightmare for opposing offenses, but the Vikings were able to shut them down on Thursday. That could have just been the difference between a win and a loss in a tightly-contested game.
Justin Jefferson is the best receiver in the NFL: Jonathan Jones had a really tough night on Thursday, but almost everyone does when covering Justin Jefferson. He is nothing short of the best receiver in football, and consistently makes plays that seem impossible look effortless.
The catch Jeffers had when getting hit by Devin McCourty, and one of his earlier receptions, when he caught the ball with his forearm, are two of the most impressive play you will see on a football field. Jefferson is a superstar, and the Patriots had no answer for him on Thursday.
Special teams is a problem: The Patriots surrendered a kickoff return touchdown, but that was not the only special teams issue on the day. They did a pretty good covering punts in the game, but the punting they did themselves was atrocious.
Michael Palardy had a really solid game last week, but shanked two attempts on Thursday. Luckily, neither of those drives ended with points for the Vikings, but the one at the end of the game failed to pin the Vikings deep, and the Patriots would take over inside their 13-yard line down by a touchdown at the end of the game. Getting that ball closer to midfield to start would have been big for the Patriots, but they weren’t able to do it because their punting was bad.
Officiating did not lose the game, but it certainly didn’t help either: Typically the officiating is terrible on both sides, and the refs missed a few calls against the Patriots. However, it seemed they missed a lot more against the home team Vikings.
A holding that occurred on the kick return touchdown went uncalled and in combination with the bizarre reversal on the Hunter Henry touchdown cost the Patriots 11 points at the beginning of the second half. The Vikings also seemed to get bailed out in a key situation late in the game, when a face mask against Mac Jones was not seen.
Officials are never the reason a team loses — and they were not on Thursday. For a team with as small a margin of error as the Patriots, however, it certainly did not help either.
The Patriots have virtually no margin for error moving forward: If the Patriots want a shot at making the playoffs, they have a lot to clean up, and they will have to do it quickly. They now have five losses, and making the playoffs with more than seven or eight in a highly competitive AFC seems unlikely.
With two games against the Bills still coming up, not to mention games against the Cincinnati Bengals and Miami Dolphins, New England can make it into the tournament by its own might. A win on Thanksgiving would have given the team some more wiggle room, but, since it wasn’t able to close the deal, the pressure is now on the Patriots to win some of the tougher games on the schedule the rest of the way.