PASSING OFFENSE: F — Brad Johnson had a night to forget, throwing three interceptions, posting a 38.1 quarterback rating and being lifted with just over 12 minutes remaining in the fourth quarter. His replacement, Brooks Bollinger, was sacked on the first three plays. Receiver Troy Williamson caught five passes for 44 yards and running back Mewelde Moore gained 91 yards on four receptions, but the passing game was going nowhere. The tempo was set with the Vikings down 7-0 in the first quarter. Minnesota took over at the New England 45-yard line after an interception by safety Darren Sharper. Johnson got the Vikings to the Patriots' 5-yard line before throwing an interception on a pass intended for Moore. Moore was slowed up by a defender, but Johnson still let go of the ball, never seeing Rodney Harrison at the goal line. Harrison's pick set up a New England drive that ended with a field goal. In all, Johnson and Bollinger combined to throw four picks.
RUSHING OFFENSE: D — Coming off a career-high 169-yard rushing performance in Seattle last week, Chester Taylor was held to only 22 yards on 10 carries and the Vikings finished with 45 yards on 15 attempts. Falling behind early meant the Vikings had to go to the air more than they probably would have liked but Minnesota has proven this season that it can't win if it doesn't establish the run game.
PASS DEFENSE: F — Tom Brady dissected this unit for 372 yards and four touchdowns, completing 29 of 43 passes. He threw one interception and was sacked three times but still posted a 115.6 quarterback rating. This was easily the shakiest performance of the season by a defense that hasn't been nearly as dominant against the pass as it has against the run. The Patriots jumped on the Vikings early, spreading the field on their first possession. New England had five receivers/tight ends split wide with an empty backfield on five of the first seven plays. The Patriots moved 86 yards in that time as Brady hit on six of six passes, ending with a 6-yard touchdown to receiver Reche Caldwell. By halftime, Brady had passed for 257 yards and two touchdowns.
RUSH DEFENSE: C — Patriots coach Bill Belichick knew it would be tough to run on this defense and so he simply didn't do it. With Brady having such a hot hand, he also didn't need to worry about the run. The Patriots ended up attempting only 15 rushes and gained 85 yards against a Vikings defense that was giving up 70.8 yards per game. Defensive tackle Kevin Williams, who has been so effective all season, bordered on being a non-factor, in part because he was ill Monday and also because of a sprained ankle.
SPECIAL TEAMS: C — A perfect snapshot of this unit came in the third quarter. With the Vikings trailing 17-0, Mewelde Moore returned a punt 71 yards for a touchdown and suddenly it seemed Minnesota might be in business. But just as quickly, Patriots rookie Laurence Maroney took the ensuing kickoff 77 yards to the Vikings 21-yard line and three plays later the Patriots held a comfortable 24-7 lead. All the good done on Moore's return suddenly had been undone. Bethel Johnson returned kickoffs for the second consecutive game and averaged 20.5 yards on four returns. That gives him a 25.8-yard return average, which is about 2.5 yards better than what Troy Williamson averaged.
COACHING: D — Brad Childress is normally wound pretty tight, but as preparations began for the Patriots last week it was apparent he was even more tense than usual. The prospect of facing Bill Belichick can do that to a first-year head coach. One example of Childress' behavior came on Thursday, one day after New England had submitted an injury report with 13 players on it and the Vikings had turned one in with four players on it. Suddenly, Minnesota's injury report had grown to eight players as Childress clearly attempted to match wits with Belichick. Not surprisingly, the tighter Childress got, the tighter his players became.
Grading the Game: Patriots
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