Here are the key takeaways from the Patriots Thanksgiving loss to the Vikings.Mike Dussault
The Patriots and Vikings went toe to toe on Thanksgiving night, as the two teams matched scores for most of the game in the back-and-forth affair. Minnesota was able to pull away late in the fourth quarter, delivering the key score in crunch time, as mistakes on defense and special teams came at the worst possible time for the Patriots.
With a final stop on defense, the Vikings sealed the win 33-26.
The Pats offense had one of their best games of the season, but the defense couldn't match their dominating play of recent weeks and special teams cost more points than they added. The result? They met in the middle, scoring more than usual but also allowing more points than usual in a surprisingly high-scoring contest. Kirk Cousins and the Vikings offense found success moving the ball through the air, with Justin Jefferson posting 139 yards with a touchdown and showing why he's one of the best players in the league.
But Mac Jones showed some impressive fight with his second 300-yard passing performance of the season and his third-straight turnover-free game. Mac is building some momentum but didn't get enough help in the other two phases to pull out a victory.
Here are the key takeaways from the disappointing loss.
First Drives, Trading Scores
Both teams looked sharp offensively out of the gate, with the Vikings marching down the field going 65 yards in eight plays, aided by a 15-yard facemask on Jonathan Jones. Kirk Cousins found Justin Jefferson on a crossing route for the early 7-0 lead as Minnesota showed an impressive early stride.
But the Patriots would quickly and surprisingly counter, matching with a five-play, 75-yard scoring drive that evened the score at 7-7. Mac Jones' 34-yard strike to Nelson Agholor was one of his best throws of the year, hitting the streaking wide receiver in between the safeties with impressive touch and timing.
With a quick turnaround the two teams came out ready to execute but quickly slowed on their ensuing drives with the Patriots going three-and-out and the Vikings combining a three-and-out of their own with an interception to Jonathan Jones, who returned the pick 55 yards to set up a 24-yard Nick Folk field goal that gave the Pats a 10-7 lead near the end of the first quarter.
Minnesota would counter on their fourth offensive possession with a 14-play, 82-yard drive but New England's defense bent but didn't break, getting a stop inside the red zone thanks in part to a drawn holding call by Matthew Judon that backed the Vikings up 10 yards.
Meyers departs after first play but returns
Jakobi Meyers started the game off with a diving 26-yard reception but came down hard and quickly exited the field. After an extended period in the blue injury tent Meyers was escorted to the locker room where he was reportedly undergoing tests on his shoulder while also being checked for a concussion.
Losing the offense's most reliable receiver on the first play was far from ideal, though Meyers would return to the sideline in the first half and he'd get back on the field for the final drive of the first half, however he'd sustain another direct blow to his shoulder on a third-down conversion catch in the third quarter that sent him back to the sidelines.
With a week to go until a key matchup against the Bills, Meyers health will be something to monitor over the coming practices, slated to start on Sunday as the team moves its schedule up to accommodate the unusual schedule of playing back-to-back Thursday night games.
Jefferson sparks another score, but Pats tie it back up at half
The Vikings added another excellent drive as the first half was winding down, with wide receiver Justin Jefferson putting on full display why he is one of the toughest covers in the NFL. Jefferson had catches of 37 and 17 yards on the drive, as it ended up being a nine-play, 75-yard touchdown-scoring trot.
An offsides penalty by Judon on 3rd-and-12 that led to the 37-yard catch by Jefferson loomed large over the drive as the Pats missed out on a prime chance to get off the field.
Even with some stout play against the run up front by the Pats defense that delivered two initial stops near the goal line, the Patriots were unable to stop the third-down play action pass that resulted in Minnesota's second touchdown of the game. Kyle Dugger fell down on the play, resulting in an easy completion to tight end T.J. Hockenson for the score. A missed extra point held the lead to 16-13. It was Greg Joseph's fifth missed extra point of the season.
The Patriots would counter with another impressive drive of their own, going nine plays, 70 yards in just 1:27 of clock time, getting all the way down to the Vikings' 5-yard line where they'd again fall short of another touchdown. Nick Folk's third field goal of the day knotted the game up at 16-16 at the half.
The Patriots had 176 yards in the first half while the Vikings had 231 in the tightly fought contest with Cousin's sole interception offsetting the significant damage Jefferson was doing. Mac Jones continued to throw the ball well (130.0 QB rating in first half) but the team's red zone issues (0-2) and third down problems (0-3) hampered their efforts in the first half.
Mac comes out firing in third quarter
After receiving the opening kickoff to start the third quarter the Patriots continued their strong offensive play with their best drive of the night, an eight-play, 75-yard drive that didn't even need to stop in the red zone as Hunter Henry broke a tackle and took the football to the end zone for New England's second touchdown of the game. The 37-yard catch-and-run gave New England back the lead at 23-16. Mac was 5-of-6 on the drive and converted two third downs with passes, the team's first two successful conversions of the game.
Mac would lead another scoring drive after the Vikings tied it back up on a kickoff return with it initially looking like Hunter Henry would pick up a touchdown, however, the play was overturned after it was determined Henry did not survive the ground. Again, New England settled for a field goal, but it was still a good drive that lasted another nine plays. However, that would be their last points of the game.
The Patriots strung together some of their most consistent drives of the season in this game, but finishing with more touchdowns than field goals remains an elusive goal. In the fourth quarter they punted twice and turned it over twice on downs as clutch play down the stretch is also an issue.
Special teams giveth and taketh away
New England got what was essentially a walk-off win last week thanks to their special teams with a game-winning kickoff return by Marcus Jones, but this week special teams hurt them with Minnesota taking a return to the house with a 97-yard return that once again tied the game up, this time at 23, in the third quarter.
Kyle Dugger might've been held on the play as he lost the edge for the kickoff unit. New England had some good momentum going out of the locker room from the half, but the score made sure Minnesota kept pace. It was the first kickoff return for touchdown that the Patriots have allowed since 2010.
Special teams would cost the Pats again in the fourth quarter, with Pierre Strong running into the punter and costing New England a much-needed stop.
Minny pulls ahead in fourth, seals it
The game was tied at 26 headed into the fourth quarter as the two teams looked evenly matched and balanced their scores and stops over the first three-fourths of the game.
After five-straight scoring drives by the Patriots they were forced to punt after a three-and-out, going cold as the game entered its final frame. The defense, hurt by a running into the kicker penalty that kept a drive alive, couldn't find their own stride, allowing the go-ahead touchdown to the Vikings on another long drive, this one six plays, 71 yards with the game hanging in the balance.
After two first-quarter stops, a forced punt and an interception, New England allowed points on every ensuing drive until late in the fourth quarter. The offense's surprising output and ability to move the ball was the only thing that kept the Patriots in it, as defense and special teams letdowns were the story in a reversal of the 2022 trends we've come to expect.
Patriots are now 6-5
With the loss, the Patriots fall back to 6-5 on the season, breaking their three-game win streak and setting up an even bigger matchup in just one week against their divisional rivals, the Buffalo Bills. It's hard to know where to look after the loss. The offense showed some of their most positive strides of the season, but in true "one-step forward, one-step back" fashion, the defense struggled to pressure Kirk Cousins and couldn't get off the field when it counted the most, while two key special teams letdowns led directly to 14 of Minnesota's points.
Was this performance a feature of the short week? Or a sign of the true direction of where the 2022 Patriots are headed? Buffalo needs no introduction and their offense and defense will pose an even tougher challenge. The only prescription, keep building on offense and cut the mistakes on defense and special teams. Both are easier said than done as the team continues its toughest stretch of the season, with wins becoming more and more critical.
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