The Patriots lost to the Vikings, 33-26, in a back-and-forth Thanksgiving Day matchup. New England fell to 6-5 as a result of the defeat.
Mac Jones had his best game of the season, but the Patriots’ defense — combined with some special teams mistakes — left Bill Belichick’s team on the wrong side of the final score.
Here are a few takeaways:
Mac Jones had his breakout game, but it wasn’t enough.
For those waiting to see Mac Jones post an impressive stat line, Thursday offered a glimpse at his potential. The second-year quarterback played by far his best game of the season, completing 28 of 39 passes for 382 yards with two touchdowns and no interceptions.
The play-action passing game seemed particularly effective, including the 37-yard touchdown pass to Hunter Henry in the third quarter:
It was a solid day for Jones, only it wasn’t enough in the end to help get the Patriots the win. And as good as Jones was, New England’s offense stalled later in the game when it was needed the most.
After kicking a field goal to take 26-23 lead in the third quarter, New England went three-and-out on its next two drives, turned the ball over on downs the drive after that, and failed to advance beyond the Patriots’ 20-yard line during the final desperation drive at the end of the game.
The silver lining of the loss should absolutely be the positive steps that the Patriots’ offense (and Jones specifically) seemed to take. Yet the resulting defeat and the late-game struggles loom over the team’s progress, however encouraging it might have been.
The red zone offense (and defense) was the difference.
Though 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 this below), but the fact remains that New England entered the day ranked 31st in red zone touchdown percentage and did nothing to change that.
On the flip side, the Vikings went 3-5 in red zone trips, a high percentage that the Patriots’ defense doesn’t usually allow.
This, in the simplest terms, proved to be difference in a game of such tight margins.
The defense contained Dalvin Cook, but not Justin Jefferson.
Belichick’s game plan against the Vikings’ offense appeared to center around limiting Minnesota running back Dalvin Cook and putting the ball in the hands quarterback of Kirk Cousins.
This worked, or at least half of it did. New England kept Cook contained, yielding 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. Cousins strung together 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 superstar 23-year-old 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 down to the Patriots’ 15-yard line in the fourth quarter that set up the eventual game-winning touchdown.
The officiating (and NFL rules) proved controversial.
While the subject of NFL officiating is constantly debated, the Patriots were subjected to both a missed call and a controversial call in quick succession on Thursday night.
The first came in the third quarter following a Patriots’ touchdown drive to take a 23-16 lead. Vikings returner Kene Nwangwu ran the ensuing kickoff 97 yards for a touchdown. Replays appeared 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 drove downfield into the red zone. On third and goal at the Minnesota six-yard line, Jones seemed to connect with Henry for another touchdown. When the play was reviewed however, Henry was judged to not have completed the catch despite breaking the plane of the goal-line with the ball in his hands.
Ex-NFL wide receiver Dez Bryant, who was himself involved in a controversial no-catch ruling several years ago, tweeted his blunt thoughts about the NFL’s decision:
The consensus among NBC television announcers that the referees got the call right based on the definition of the NFL rule implies that the controversy in that case was less to do with the officials than it was with the ongoing lack of a clearcut definition for what, exactly, is a catch.
A week after making the winning play, special teams proved costly.
In Week 11, it was Marcus Jones’ punt return touchdown that won the Patriots a crucial matchup against the Jets.
In Week 12, it was Pierre Strong Jr.’s penalty — running into the kicker on fourth and three at the Vikings’ 36-yard line with 11:04 to go in the game — that helped lead to New England’s loss.
It was a bad mistake from the rookie running back (who also plays on special teams). Given a second chance on the drive, Cousins quickly led the Vikings down the field for the go-ahead touchdown.
And while Dugger was fouled during the Vikings’ kickoff return touchdown earlier in the game, the play was nonetheless a collective failure of Patriots’ special teams to get the stop.
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