Three thoughts off New England’s 24–10 win against Minnesota...
This game lacked any second-half pop and got objectively boring after halftime, but the Patriots’ offense look fantastic throughout, three weeks after looking anemic against Tennessee in that baffling loss. Facing the league’s third-ranked defense, New England racked up 471 yards of total offense, averaged 6.6 yards per play and tallied 27 first downs while converting on half of their third downs. All of that came with a hobbled Rob Gronkowski (who had three catches for 26 yards until a Harrison Smith tackle late in the third didn’t see him targeted again.) And what a luxury to have such an efficient offense without needing much from Josh Gordon, who caught all three of his targets for 58 yards and the go-ahead touchdown—Tom Brady didn’t look Gordon’s way for the first 43 minutes of regulation.
But the best offensive story of Sunday night’s game came on the final possession. Brady had rushed once for five yards earlier in the game to get his 1,000th career rushing yards. After a Jonathan Jones interception, Brady had to kneel the clock out. But he leaned forward (!) on the kneel down and wasn’t dinged a yard, finishing the game at exactly 1,000 career rushing yards.
A fantastic decision by Mike Zimmer to challenge a questionable spot at the two-minute warning. Gronkowski appeared to reach the sticks on second-and-five from the New England 22 going into the stoppage, but Zimmer saw it differently and threw the red flag coming out of the break. He was right, and Danielle Hunter stopped James White on third-and-inches to force a Patriots’ punt. The Vikings would march down the field in two minutes and score on a short touchdown pass to Adam Thielen. First of all, spots are so difficult to overturn, why do you try? Secondly, it was just a conversion on second down in the Pats’ territory, so why challenge that when they’re likely to convert on third-and-short? We saw the answers to those questions. Great challenge by Zimmer that gave his team some juice going into halftime.
An obligatory look at the postseason implications from this result. The 9–3 Patriots are a game behind the No. 1 Chiefs and tied with the Texans. But the Pats own the tiebreaker with both of those teams. Three of the Patriots’ final four games come against AFC East opponents, so you should feel good about expecting the Pats to get a first-round playoff bye for the ninth consecutive year. For the 6-5-1 Vikings, they couldn’t capitalize on the Bears’ loss to the Giants that would have put Minnesota in control of NFC North division hopes. The Panthers and Packers losing certainly helps Minnesota, but the Vikings will keep a close eye on Monday night’s game between 6-5 Washington and 5-6 Philadelphia.