FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — Time and time again, the Vikings defense faced crucial third-down situations against the Patriots and quarterback Tom Brady on Sunday night.
But it seemed each time New England lined up on third down looking for a first down, they only needed a few yards — or even less than 1 — to move the chains.
It sure felt that way to Minnesota's defense.
"Yeah, they were," Vikings safety Harrison Smith said when asked if it seemed like New England was always in a third-and-short situation.
The Patriots converted a whopping seven of 14 opportunities on third downs, one of the best performances this season against a Vikings defense that entered Week 13 with the league's top third-down defense at 28.3 percent.
But it surely helped the Patriots that an astounding 12 of their third-down plays came when the scenario was third-and-6 or shorter.
And New England had eight third-down plays where it needed three yards or less to pick up a first down and move the sticks.
The Patriots converted on six of those eight third-down attempts.
"You've got to put context to it," said Vikings linebacker Anthony Barr. "A lot of those were third-and-short, and offenses are supposed to convert third-and-1. Fifty percent is not good enough for us."
Vikings linebacker Eric Kendricks and defensive end Stephen Weatherly were among those who noted that most of New England's conversions were of the manageable variety.
They countered that better play on the first two downs of series would have helped out the defense.
"We've got to keep them out of third-and-short … that's definitely favorable for the offense," Kendricks said. "We've got to do better on second down and first down to put ourselves in a better situation on third down."
Added Weatherly: "We can't give them third-and-manageable … so we have to do better on first and second down to give them third-and-medium. Especially on third-and-long, we have a better chance of stopping them so they're not 50 percent on third down."
The Patriots converted five of eight third-down attempts in the first half, a stat that included the Patriots converting four of their first five attempts.
Head Coach Mike Zimmer and the Vikings defense made the necessary adjustments in the second and third quarters, as Minnesota then stymied the Patriots on five straight attempts to keep the Patriots and Brady at bay.
View game action images as the Vikings take on the Patriots at Gillette Stadium on Sunday.
"We came in, we saw how they were attacking us and we did what Coach told us to at halftime," Weatherly said. "We made some pretty good stops coming out of halftime."
The Patriots converted two of three third-down tries in the opening quarter and were three of five in the second quarter. Minnesota stopped New England on all three of its third-down plays in the third stanza.
But with the Vikings trying to claw back, the Patriots converted on two of three third-down plays in the fourth quarter, with both successes coming on third-and-1.
"Yeah, some of them were third-and-shorts, and we've been pretty good with that, but they did a nice job there," said Zimmer, who noted that the third-down ratio for both teams played a role in the game.
"Yeah, that's a big factor," Zimmer added. "We were 3-of-12, and they were 7-of-14."