The Vikings traveled to Foxborough, Massachusetts in Week 13 looking to string together back-to-back wins after last week's victory over Green Bay. The New England Patriots had other ideas, though. The Vikings were unable to complete the task, falling to New England by a score of 24-10 at Gillette Stadium. The loss drops the Vikings to 6-5-1, with four games to play in the regular season.
Here are five takeaways from the Vikings loss to New England on Sunday.
1. Vikings offense had trouble generating explosive plays
Long, time-consuming drives that result in touchdowns are great. So are short drives that include explosive plays and quick scores. The Vikings offense had trouble generating either on Sunday. The Vikings offense had multiple 1st downs on only four of 11 series and it only generated four plays of 20+ yards on the afternoon. The inability to explode down the field took pressure off the Patriots secondary and allowed the defense to rally and tackle as the Vikings relied on the short and intermediate passing game more times than not.
2. Slow start created uphill climb
The Vikings opened the game by going three-and-out and were forced to punt on three of their first four possessions. The other possession ended with a missed field goal. New England, meanwhile, drove 86 yards in eight plays to score a touchdown on its first possession and then put together a 15-play drive that consumed more than eight minutes to tack on a field goal and take a 10-0 lead with 5:45 to play in the 2nd quarter. This slow start for the Vikings and solid beginning for the Patriots created an uphill climb for the Vikings in what has been a very difficult place for teams to win, especially in December.
3. Zimmer's decision-making keyed mid-game rally
Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer helped his team come back from that slow start with a key series of decisions late in the 2nd quarter. New England had a 10-point lead and appeared to have picked up a 1st down on a Rob Gronkowski reception. But Zimmer challenged the spot and the ruling was reversed after review, putting the Patriots at 3rd and inches. On the next play, Zimmer's play call resulted in a tackle for no gain, and New England punted away to the Vikings. Kirk Cousins and Co. took the field and quickly advanced the ball, capping the drive with a five-yard touchdown pass to Adam Thielen to make the score 10-7 right in front of halftime. This series of events, created because of Zimmer's decision to challenge a spot, generated momentum for the Vikings after a slow start. The Vikings scored late in the 3rd quarter on a Dan Bailey field goal to knot the score at 10.
4. Cook flashes but running game still sputters
The Patriots had a hard time containing Dalvin Cook when he got his hands on the ball, but the Vikings also had a hard time getting the ball to Cook enough times. The Vikings second-year running back had 62 rushing yards on five carries (12.4 yards per rush) in the first half, an effort that included a 32-yard run and that was complemented by five receptions. Despite that success in the first half, Cook carried the ball only four times in the second half, finishing the game with nine carries for 84 yards (9.3) and eight catches for 22 yards on 10 targets. So while Cook was generating yardage at a more than efficient clip when given opportunities, the Vikings had trouble keeping their explosive running back involved, particularly on the ground. Latavius Murray logged just four carries for 11 yards. It's a certainty that getting the running game back on track will be a point of emphasis this week in practice as the Vikings prepare for another tough road game in Seattle on Monday night.
5. Patriots offensive line played well
It's a fair assumption that New England's offensive coaching staff will be pleased with the performance of its offensive line after they review the tape. The Vikings vaunted defensive line was unable to sack Tom Brady and tallied only one quarterback hit, allowing the future Hall of Famer to spread 24 completions around to nine different players. Additionally, the Vikings recorded just one tackle for loss on the night. In addition to not allowing a sack or much penetration at all, the Patriots offensive line paved the way for the running game to generate 4.1 yards per carry and 160 yards on the ground.