The Patriots lost to the Vikings, 33-26, in a home-and-away game on Thanksgiving Day. New England fell to 6-5 in the loss.
Mac Jones had its best game of the season, but the Patriots’ defense — combined with a few special teams errors — left Bill Belichick’s team on the wrong end of the final score.
Here are some takeaways:
Mac Jones had his escape game, but it wasn’t enough.
For those waiting to see Mac Jones post an impressive stat line, Thursday offered a glimpse of his potential. The sophomore quarterback played his best game of the season by far, completing 28 of 39 passes for 382 yards with two touchdowns and no interceptions.
The play-action passing game seemed particularly effective, notably the 37-yard touchdown pass to Hunter Henry in the third quarter:
It was a good day for Jones, but it wasn’t enough in the end to help the Patriots get the win. And as good as Jones was, the New England offense stalled later in the game, when it was needed most.
After scoring a field goal to take a 26-23 lead in the third quarter, New England made three-and-ones on their next two drives, turned the ball over on the drive lows after that and didn’t managed to advance past the Patriots’ 20. -yard line in the last desperation practice at the end of the game.
The silver lining of the loss should absolutely be the positive steps the Patriots offense (and Jones in particular) seemed to be taking. Still, the resulting loss and late-game struggles weigh on the team’s progress, encouraging as it may have been.
The attack (and defense) of the red zone made the difference.
Although Jones was largely effective in the game and Rhamondre Stevenson continued to be a dominant force with the ball in his hands, New England still went 0-3 in the red zone.
Granted, there was some controversy on one of those trips (more on that below), but the fact remains that New England entered the day ranked 31st in percentage of touchdown in the red zone and did nothing to change that.
On the other hand, the Vikings went 3-5 in red zone travel, a high percentage that the Patriots’ defense usually doesn’t allow.
This, in the simplest terms, turned out to be the difference in a game with such tight margins.
The defense included Dalvin Cook, but not Justin Jefferson.
Belichick’s game plan against the Vikings offense seemed to focus on limiting Minnesota running back Dalvin Cook and getting the ball into the hands of quarterback Kirk Cousins.
It worked, or at least half of it worked. New England contained Cook, giving up just 42 rushing yards to the veteran on 22 carries. He caught four passes, but for just 14 yards.
However, the other half of the game plan fell apart. The cousins had a good day: 30 of 37 for 299 yards through the air with three touchdowns.
And while the Patriots defense limited Cook, it was unable to handle Vikings wide receiver Justin Jefferson. The 23-year-old superstar caught nine passes (11 targets) for 139 yards and a touchdown.
Jefferson made several clutch plays even beyond his touchdown, including a 36-yard completion to the Patriots 15-yard line in the fourth quarter that set up the eventual game-winning touchdown.
Arbitration (and NFL rules) has proven contentious.
With the topic of NFL officiating constantly debated, the Patriots were subjected to both a missed call and a contentious call in quick succession Thursday night.
The first came in the third quarter after a Patriots touchdown to take a 23-16 lead. Vikings returner Kene Nwangwu ran the ensuing kickoff 97 yards for a touchdown. Reruns seemed to show that New England safety Kyle Dugger was held on the play, preventing him from potentially making the touchdown-saving tackle.
When Jones and the Patriots got the ball back, they headed to the red zone. At third and base on the Minnesota six-yard line, Jones appeared to connect with Henry for another touchdown. However, when the play was reviewed, Henry was deemed to have failed to complete the catch despite breaking the goal line plane with the ball in his hands.
Former NFL wide receiver Dez Bryant, who himself was involved in a controversial no-go decision several years ago, tweeted his blunt thoughts on the NFL’s decision:
The consensus among NBC television announcers that the umpires did get the call based on the NFL’s rule definition implies that the controversy in this case had less to do with the officials than with the continued absence of a clear definition of what, exactly, is a snag.
A week after making the winning play, special teams proved costly.
In Week 11, it was Marcus Jones’ punt return touchdown that earned the Patriots a crucial game against the Jets.
In Week 12, it was Pierre Strong Jr.’s penalty — hitting the kicker on fourth-and-third on the Vikings’ 36-yard line with 11:04 left in the game — that contributed to the loss of New England.
It was a bad mistake on the part of the rookie running back (who also plays on special teams). Given a second chance on the drive, Cousins quickly led the Vikings downfield for the go-ahead touchdown.
And although Dugger was fouled on the Vikings’ kickoff return touchdown earlier in the game, the play was nonetheless a collective failure by the Patriots’ special teams to earn the stoppage.
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