Welcome to the Unconventional Review, an instant reaction to standouts, stats, and story lines from the Patriots’ most recent game . . .
The Patriots’ 33-26 loss to the Vikings Sunday night was something of a reversal of their standard mode of operation this season.
The offense, so often a stagnant, uninspired unit, delivered a performance that would have brought victory on most nights. Mac Jones completed 28 of 39 passes for 382 yards and two touchdowns, easily the best performance of his sophomore season. The makeshift offensive line, which was without David Andrews and Isaiah Wynn, held the Vikings’ pass rush at bay. There were frustrations — too often kicker Nick Folk (four field goals) was called upon to salvage stalled drives — but ultimately this must be looked at as an encouraging offensive performance to build on.
Unfortunately, the Patriots defense, so often their saving grace during their modest and now-snapped three-game winning streak, couldn’t get a stop when they needed one. They allowed 33 points, tied for the second-most they’ve given up all season, while Vikings all-world receiver Justin Jefferson delivered a big play whenever the moment demanded one. The Patriots still have a defense to believe in — this is not The Boogeymen Part II — but this was not their finest night.
Some further thoughts, upon immediate review . . .
Three players who were worth watching
Players suggested in the Unconventional Preview: Justin Jefferson, Matthew Judon, Dalvin Cook.
Justin Jefferson: How ridiculously good is this guy? You notice that he dropped nine catches for 139 yards and a touchdown on the Patriots, and two thoughts immediately come to mind: Wow, it actually seemed like he had twice that many yards, and, you know, the Patriots actually didn’t do a terrible job defending him. They tried double-teaming him, the ultimate sign of respect from Bill Belichick, who had no other way to attempt to take away the Vikings’ most dangerous weapon. But it didn’t do much good, especially when the Vikings played at a fast tempo to limit opportunities to get extra defensive backs on the field. Jefferson scored the first touchdown of the game on a 6-yard crossing pattern on the Vikings’ opening possession. His best play? Though he had highlights all over the place, probably a 37-yard leaping grab with Jonathan Jones and Devin McCourty in coverage in the second quarter. The attention that he draws makes life much easier for his fellow pass catchers. Receiver Adam Thielen and tight end T.J. Hockenson combined for 14 catches, 104 yards, and two touchdowns. I’m convinced: Jefferson is the premier receiver in the NFL.
Nelson Agholor: Really, we could have cited several Patriots pass catchers in this spot. Six players had at least three catches, and five — Agholor, Jakobi Meyers, Hunter Henry, Rhamondre Stevenson, and DeVante Parker — compiled at least 62 yards in the air. But Agholor gets the nod because he stepped in on the first drive when Meyers left briefly with what appeared to be a shoulder injury and caught a 34-yard TD strike from Jones to tie the game at 7. Agholor’s catch, one of his six on eight targets for 65 yards, gave the Patriots — and this is crazy that it took so long — their first touchdown in the first quarter this season. Alas, he couldn’t quite come up with Jones’s fourth-down desperation heave on the Patriots’ penultimate offensive possession.
Josh Uche: The Patriots entered the game with the second-most sacks in the league (36), but their vaunted pass rush was mostly a rumor against a Vikings line that wasn’t supposed to be very resistant. Judon went without a sack for just the third time this season, and the Patriots managed just one as a team. That came courtesy of Uche, his fifth in the past four games, and it was a huge play at the moment. On the first snap of the fourth quarter, he buried Kirk Cousins for a 9-yard loss on second-and-8 deep in New England territory. The Vikings ended up having to settle for a Greg Joseph 36-yard field goal to tie the game at 26.
Grievance of the game
As well as they played in some aspects, the Patriots deserve to get lit up by Belichick in their next film session. They made all sorts of mistakes, from Jonathan Jones’s two facemask penalties, to their lost containment on Kene Nwangwu’s 97-yard kickoff return for a touchdown to tie the score at 23 in the third quarter, to having to settle for field goals in situations where they started with excellent field position, particularly after Jones returned his interception 55 yards to the Vikings’ 17 in the first quarter. But the biggest mistake, bar none, was rookie Pierre Strong running into the punter on fourth and 3 from the Vikings’ 36 with 11:04 left in the game. Strong gave the Vikings a first down and restored their momentum. Three plays later, Thielen had a touchdown — for the Vikings, the winning one. Just a totally inexcusable play in that situation.
Three notes scribbled in the margin
Predicted score: Patriots 23, Vikings 20
Final score: Vikings 33, Patriots 26
Hockenson was apparently easier to shut down when he was with the Lions. Kyle Dugger and his fellow safeties held the talented tight end to one catch for six yards in Week 6. Dealt to the Vikings before the trade deadline, Hockenson made the most of his chance for payback, beating Dugger, who fell down on play action, for a touchdown while making five catches for 43 yards this time around . . . It wasn’t a bad night for one of the Patriots’ tight ends, either. Henry rumbled 37 yards for a touchdown on the first series of the second half, giving the Patriots a temporary 23-16 lead. He nearly had a second TD catch later in the third quarter, making a leaping grab at the goal line, but it was overturned upon review after it appeared the ball touched the ground before he had it totally secured. The Patriots had to settle for a field goal and a 26-23 lead . . . All I’ll say about NBC’s broadcast is this: Cris Collinsworth is no longer permitted to have Thanksgiving off every year.
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