Notebook: Patriots' Strategy Dialed In

The Patriots' approach on offense wasn't based on a complicated theory. They simply counteracted the Vikings' approach to pass defense. See what some of the principle characters in that battle had to say, and get insight about the struggling offense and Warren Moon's honor for his induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

Sometimes football strategy seems so obvious, and the New England Patriots made the obvious seem simple.

The Vikings came into Monday night's game with the No. 1-ranked rush defense in the league, so the Patriots simply settled on throwing the ball often.

Quarterback Tom Brady threw and threw through the Vikings defense, through and through. By the time Brady left the game in the fourth quarter, he had completed 29 of 43 passes for 372 yards and four touchdowns.

"He does a lot of things at the line of scrimmage just to try to see where you're coming from, see if you'll give him any indicator, kind of double count and then he readjusts his protection," said Vikings head coach Brad Childress. "He got back into the shotgun and knew exactly what he was looking at."

Brady did as Childress said, often getting his offense to the line of scrimmage with 20 seconds or more left on the play clock, going through an initial cadence and seeing if he could undercover what the Vikings were about to bring his way. Then he'd back off, readjust his call and, more times than not, complete a pass that looked too easy against the Minnesota defense.

The Patriots' strategy was sound. To counteract what the Vikings defense had done so well this season on passing downs – blitz the passer – the Patriots flooded the field with receivers and went with empty backfields. That kept the linebackers and extra defensive backs occupied in coverage.

"That surprised me. I thought when they were up some 20 points they would try and run the ball," cornerback Antoine Winfield said. "I mean, I don't know. They did everything right. Brady found open receivers and made plays. We didn't get off the field on third down. Hats off to them. They played well."

The carnage added up to this: By the time the Patriots were done, they had 10 players catch passes, with tight end Ben Watson (seven for 95) and wide receivers Reche Caldwell (seven for 84) and Doug Gabriel (five for 83) leading the way.

"(Brady) surprised me," Winfield said. "I've played against him a few times. His game is definitely elevated. He's at the top of his game right now. Like I said, he found a weakness."

Childress said he was not caught off-guard by the Patriots' spread offense.

"That's part of their deal. If you remember back a couple years ago, 25 throws in a row against the Steelers, so we knew they were capable of doing that. It kind of spreads things out and shows things to Tom. There's a reason he's an All-Pro – he can pick you apart."

Before coming up against Minnesota, the Patriots had not completed a pass longer than 35 yards. By halftime, they had completions of 45, 40 and 34 yards.

"We got a lot of pressure this game from Minnesota," Patriots head coach Bill Belichick said. "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 sets."

While other teams may try to emulate the Patriots' approach in the future, there is some doubt as to whether many teams have the weapons New England possesses.

"If you can duplicate it, it's a blue print to go after the Vikings," Childress said.

BRAD BENCHED

After seeing Brad Johnson throw three interception, Brad Childress had enough. Johnson was pulled midway through the fourth quarter in favor of Brooks Bollinger.

"The turnovers played into that," Childress said. "When you're charged with touching the football, whether you're a punt returner or a running back or a wide receiver, it's important that you have respect for the football."

Johnson's first interception came with the Vikings hopeful of tying the game with a touchdown apiece late in the first quarter. They had driven the ball to the Patriots 5-yard line when Johnson overthrew a soft pass to Mewelde Moore, a lob that sailed right into the arms of safety Rodney Harrison.

"We had a back burst in that direction," Childress said. "You'd have to ask (Johnson). I don't know if it was a blind throw or he just knew a guy was going to be there, but there was someone else standing there. You have to know where you're throwing it to."

After the Patriots drove down for a field goal and a 10-0 lead, Johnson threw another third-down interception on the Vikings' ensuing drive. By the time his night was over in the fourth quarter, Johnson had completed 20 of 33 passes for 185 yards, but he threw three interceptions and ended with a passer rating of 38.1.

Bollinger was sacked in each of his first three downs and finished with a 53.2 rating. When asked who would start Sunday in San Francisco, Childress said, "I anticipate it will be Brad."

MOON HONORED

Former Viking Warren Moon was on hand Monday at the Metrodome before and during the game as the franchise celebrated his induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Moon has been open in discussing his struggles to play quarterback in an era when African-American quarterbacks were the exception.

"I've always felt like I am a Viking, even though I've played other places. I've always rooted for the Vikings since I left. … Being a part of the Hall of Fame now is (kind of) a cherry on the top of the sundae as far as my career is concerned because I went through a lot throughout my career trying to play the position of quarterback," Moon said. "I was very stubborn about the fact that I could play the position, and I'm glad I stuck to my guns because things turned out pretty well for me and I was able to do a lot of good things for my family and I was able to do a lot of good things because of my status in the community."

Guard Randall McDaniel, who will be inducted into the Ring of Honor in December, was among the former players attending Moon's celebration.

"I do want to thank the Wilf family for not only honoring me tonight, but keeping the history alive and keeping the tradition alive with the Minnesota Vikings because there's a great tradition here," Moon said. "This has been a very, very successful organization. I think the way they've come in here and turned things around, it's going to continue to be that way, and it's only going to go to the next level, and that next level we know is winning a Super Bowl here very shortly."

In anticipation of the outcome of Monday's game, maybe Moon should have added "as long as it isn't against the Patriots" to his last statement.


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