In perhaps their most entertaining game of the season, the New England Patriots (6-5) came up short to the Minnesota Vikings (9-2) 33-26 on Thanksgiving night. Here’s who stood out for better, and for worse, from the Thursday night defeat.
Winner: QB Mac Jones. The Patriots offense faded down the stretch, but this was perhaps Mac Jones’ best game of the season. With a clean pocket in front of him, Jones looked sharp and hit several big passes down field en route to a season-high 382 passing yards. He appeared to be working through his progressions faster as well (like on the 40-yard completion to DeVante Parker and the first quarter touchdown to Agholor), which is a step in the right direction. The Patriots will take that Mac Jones moving forward.
Loser: Special Teams. After playing hero against the Jets last week, it was a night to forget for the Patriots’ special teams unit on Thursday. No two plays swung the game as much as Minnesota’s 97-yard kick return (which they may have gotten away with a hold) and then Pierre Strong Jr.’s roughing the kicker penalty on a punt to move the chains for Minnesota – who then scored three plays later. Also, after a solid debut in windy conditions last week, punter Michael Palardy struggled inside at times shanking one punt 31 yards. And in the last minute, Marcus Jones’ choice to field a punt at the one-yard line seemed like a questionable decision. All-in-all, it was a bad showing from this unit.
Winner: TE Hunter Henry. This was the Hunter Henry we’ve been waiting to see all season. Henry was more involved in the passing attack, finishing with three catches on five targets for 63 yards, and hauled in a 37-yard touchdown on an old Patriot staple.
It was good to see him more involved, especially in the red zone where he appeared to haul in his second score of the day. It may not be a coincidence the passing attack looked like it did with Henry more involved.
Loser: Patriots pass rush. The Patriots pass rush has been one of the league’s top units through 11 weeks, and they seemed to be in a prime position to take over Thursday night’s game. The opposite occurred, as New England recorded just one sack (Josh Uche) and four QB hits. Kirk Cousins was extremely comfortable in the pocket Thursday night, a bad recipe to beat Minnesota.
Winner: Offensive line. Surprise. The Patriots offensive line, without David Andrews and Isaiah Wynn, turned in one of their best performances of the season upon initial viewing. Jones had plenty of clean pockets to operate out of and was hit a minimal amount of times. The one questionable play in this group was a cut-block by Trent Brown on a late third-and-long, but it was a step in the right direction for a unit that has struggled mightily of late.
“They did a great job,” Jones said. “I didn’t feel pressure at all hardly. … If we can just continue to do that I think things will go our way.”
Loser: Pass coverage. The Patriots were able to survive a not-so-great game in coverage against the Jets last week, but Minnesota took advantage this week. Justin Jefferson did as Justin Jefferson does, defeating everything the Patriots threw at him on his way to 139 receiving yards – the most they’ve allowed all season. Kyle Dugger struggled with T.J. Hockenson at times, slipping on the tight end’s one-yard touchdown reception in the second quarter. Slot corner Myles Bryant also had a rough stretch, as a slip in man coverage resulted in a 25-yard completion and he then was flagged for unnecessary roughness shortly after. Jonathan Jones also committed a pair of face mask penalties.
Honorable mentions: Another day another game of Rhamondre Stevenson doing everything in his power to carry the Patriots offense. Stevenson churned out 5.1 yards per carry and led team with nine receptions on 10 targets.
As Mac Jones was airing it out, DeVante Parker hauled in all four of his targets for 80 yards, including a 40-yard dime downfield. Nelson Agholor also set a season-high with eight targets while tying a season-high with six receptions. He hauled in a 34-yard first quarter touchdown — the Patriots first opening drive and first-quarter touchdown of the season.
Defensively, linebacker Raekwon McMillan had several nice plays resulting in a loss. He hit the gap on a Vikings outside zone run to quickly bring down Cook and later showcased his speed getting out in front of a screen for another loss.
Say what you want about the referee’s in Sunday’s defeat, but good teams are able to overcome those obstacles. An overall undisciplined game of football in all three phases (special teams gaffes, defensive penalties, offense burning two timeouts in two-minute drill, etc.) ultimately proved to be the cause of Thursday’s defeat.
On the injury front, Jakobi Meyers was in-and-out of the lineup battling a shoulder injury he suffered on the Patriots’ first offensive play from scrimmage. Damien Harris was also ruled out with a thigh injury and was spotted on crutches in the locker room postgame.