Before the Vikings traveled to Seattle, safety Darren Sharper said he thought fans wanted to know if his team was for real. They looked that way in Seattle last Sunday, then returned to action eight days later to get embarrassed in front of a Metrodome and national television audience.
Against the Patriots, the Vikings' No. 1 rush defense was never really tested, but New England quarterback Tom Brady sliced through the secondary with primary efficiency – completing 29 of 43 passes for 372 yards, four touchdowns and an interception for a 115.6 passer rating. The Patriots touchdown parade came early and didn't let up until New England had a 31-7 lead in hand late in the third quarter.
By that time, Brady had connected on scoring passes with Reche Caldwell, Ben Watson, Troy Brown and rookie Chad Jackson, setting a personal best with his 257 yards passing in one half.
Meanwhile, the Vikings offense was stumbling its way through a four-interception game in which Brad Johnson was eventually pulled in favor of Brooks Bollinger, who didn't want to elaborate on the reasons he was inserted into the game. Johnson finished with three interceptions, no touchdowns and a dismal 38.1 rating while Bollinger had one interception and three consecutive sacks to open his first series, settling for a 53.2 rating.
The running game didn't do any better. The Vikings got behind early and eventually had to abandoned Chester Taylor's ground game, which was limited to 10 carries for 22 yards.
The team stats told a similar story. New England put up 430 yards of total offense (and a 7-yard average per play) compared to the Vikings' 284. And even on special teams, where Mewelde Moore was the saving grace with a 71-yard punt return for touchdown, the Patriots answered with a 77-yard kickoff return.
The destruction started early.
The Patriots went through the Viking defense with precision passing, as Brady started the game 6-for-6 for 94 yards and a touchdown. The Vikings stuffed New England's only rush attempt for minus-8 yards, but it wouldn't matter. On third-and-10, Brady found Doug Gabriel for 45 yards in an opening across the deep middle. He continued to work the middle of the zone in many of his ensuing passes, hitting Gabriel again for 16 yards, Brown for 5, tight end Ben Watson for 14 and finally Reche Caldwell.
The Vikings followed suit with their opening drive, throwing on the first three downs and completing passes to Wiggins for 10 yards and Bethel Johnson for 15 yards. But when they went to the running game, two Taylor rushes netted no yards and the third-down toss fell incomplete under pressure.
The defense responded with Darren Sharper's 47th interception of his career on the Patriots' third down of their second series.
Then the offensive mistakes started. The Vikings took advantage of good field position by driving down to the 5-yard line with a mix of the run and the pass. Troy Williamson picked up the initial first down of the drive with a 4-yard reception on third-and-4, and fullback Tony Richardson escaped one tackle and fought his way for another first down on a check-down pass for 8 yards on third-and-8. Three touches for Taylor yielded another first down at the 10-yard line, but the solid drive ended shortly thereafter when Johnson overthrew Taylor near the goal line and Rodney Harrison came away with the easy interception to keep the Vikings scoreless.
The Patriots drove the length of the field using the same modus operandi that had been successful on their touchdown drive – namely, the passing game. Brady started with a 9-yard pass to Gabriel, a 40-yarder to Watson and a 20-yarder to Laurence Maroney on consecutive downs. Corey Dillon picked up one more first down on a 15-yard rush before Stephen Gostowski was called upon for a 25-yard field goal and a 10-0 New England lead with 11:07 to play in the half.
The Vikings' next possession ended the same way as their previous one, with Johnson throwing a third-down interception to Chad Scott that was as good as a 36-yard punt.
The teams exchanged punts on the next two drives, but New England had one last first-half statement despite rookie Jayme Mitchell starting the drive with a sack. On third-and-17, Reche Caldwell took a wide receiver screen 34 yards with the assistance of what appeared to be a pick. Once across midfield, Maroney broke free for a 22-yard run to the doorstep of the red zone. Facing third-and-10, Brady went to Caldwell for 12 yards before a holding penalty backed them up to the 16-yard line. It wouldn't matter, as three plays later Brady was hitting Watson for a 9-yard touchdown pass on third down for a 17-0 lead that held up until halftime.
The Vikings had a shot at a touchdown on the opening drive of the second half, but once across midfield Troy Williamson never got his hands on a pass that went right over his shoulder. Instead of a touchdown, the Vikings were punting back to the Patriots.
The defense stood up and forced a punt back to Minnesota, and Mewelde Moore did what the offense had failed to do – score a touchdown – on a 71-yard punt return, tying his career long.
But the Patriots quickly moved their lead back to 24 points when Maroney returned the ensuing kickoff 77 yards to the 21-yard line. It took Brady only three plays to find Troy Brown for a 7-yard touchdown and a 24-7 lead.
While the Vikings defense forced a turnover on the Patriots next drive on a Fred Smoot forced fumble and Dwight Smith recovery, on New England's next drive they pulled down more points. Rookie receiver Chad Jackson got it done this time, taking a short pass and slipping a tackle by Smith before shimmying into the end zone for a 31-7 Patriots lead.
It was total domination by the Patriots offense, which spread the Vikings defense thin with five wide receivers and found massive openings in the secondary.
The result was a whipping on national TV that elevated New England to 6-1 and dropped Minnesota to 4-3. The good news for the silver-lining crowd is that the most difficult portion of the Vikings' schedule is now behind them as they go into November looking to elevate their record into that of a playoff-worthy team.
Patriots Pour Through Vikings
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