During the first month of the season everyone around New England wanted to know what was wrong with the Patriots passing game. After a 31-7 demolition of the Minnesota Vikings in which Tom Brady has his best game of the year, a lot of those concerns have been alleviated.
It was obvious after the Patriots' first rush of the game that they just weren't going to run the football against the Vikings, so they didn't bother trying. Corey Dillon lost 8 yards on New England's second play from scrimmage. The Patriots only rushed the ball 15 times all night.
Meanwhile, Brady led an air attack that racked up 372 yards and four touchdowns.
"We knew they could throw the football," Vikings coach Brad Childress said. "They can spread you out and pick you apart. That's why Tom Brady is an All-Pro."
For the second straight week, the Patriots faced a team that runs the Tampa-2 defensive scheme. Even after New England had success throwing the football on Buffalo, the Vikings stuck to their guns. They played their cornerbacks off the Patriots receivers and paid a dear price. Ten different players caught a pass from Brady, as the Pro Bowl quarterback carved up the conservative Vikings coverage like a Thanksgiving turkey.
"Yeah, it was fun," Brady said after the game. It was a nice third-down pickup we had there on the first third down of the game. Doug (Gabriel) ran a great route, made a nice catch and a great run. We had great protection all night. It started with the first drive and it's always nice to get up on a team. We got up and we stayed up. It was a lot of fun tonight."
Antoine Winfield has seen the Patriots play this way from his days in Buffalo. With the Vikings being strong against the run, Winfield expected New England would go to the air a lot but even he was surprised how often they threw the football.
"We didn't expect to see it as much as we did," he said. "We thought they would try and change up some things but they basically threw the ball on us all game. That was surprising."
While Vikings quarterback Brad Johnson was struggling, the night belonged to No. 12. After a slow start to the season, Brady and his receivers finally had a breakout game and that's not good news for the rest of the AFC. Reche Caldwell and Doug Gabriel combined for 12 receptions, while rookie Chad Jackson caught his third touchdown pass of the season. Brady was 6-for-6 for 94 yards and a touchdown on the Patriots' opening drive. Once he gets into a groove like that early on in the game, it's almost impossible to rattle him.
"That guy, he really showed me something tonight," Winfield said. "I've played against him a few times in the past but his game has definitely elevated. Every coverage has a weakness and he found every one of them in our defense tonight. It doesn't matter who his receivers are. If you have hands and can catch, you can play with Brady. He's definitely at the top of his game right now."
--QB Tom Brady threw four touchdown passes against the Vikings, tying his career high. Brady also threw four touchdown passes against the Kansas City Chiefs on Sept. 22, 2002 and achieved the feat against the New Orleans Saints on Nov. 11, 2001. The game against Minnesota marked the first time Brady has thrown for four touchdowns on the road.
--Brady threw for 257 yards in the first half, completing 17-of-25 passes. His 257 yards were his highest yardage total for any half in his career. His previous career high for a half was 226 yards, achieved in the second half of a 2005 divisional playoff game at Denver on Jan. 14, 2006.
--RB Heath Evans ran for a 35-yard gain in the fourth quarter, recording the longest rush of his career. Prior to that run, the longest rush of Evans' career was a 21-yard jaunt against Miami on Nov. 13, 2005.
--FS Rodney Harrison intercepted Minnesota's Brad Johnson on the goal line in the first quarter to stop a Minnesota drive. The interception was Harrison's first of the season and the 32nd of his regular-season career. Since joining the Patriots prior to the 2003 season, Harrison now has recorded six interceptions in the regular-season and six in the playoffs for a grand total of 12 picks. Dating back to the beginning of the 2004 regular season, six of Harrison's last seven interceptions have come inside the opponents' 20-yard line, with five of the seven coming inside the 4-yard line.
--The Patriots opened the game with a seven-play, 86-yard touchdown drive, marking the second consecutive game in which the Patriots reached the end zone on their opening drive. Prior to last week against Buffalo, the Patriots had gone six straight regular-season games without scoring on their first drive.
--"Minnesota pressured us a lot. We felt like there wasn't much of an opportunity to run in there against all of those guys. They are all pretty good. They are hard to block as it is. When they put more in there than you can handle, it is just like beating your head against the wall. ... We felt like throwing the ball and spreading it out would be the best way to handle it. The amount of pressure they gave us kind of dictated the number of times we were in those various (spread passing) sets." -- Bill Belichick on why the Patriots ditched the running game and went strictly to the pass for most of the game.
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