Patriots Not Super, But Get Job Done

When the Vikings take the field against the Patriots today, they'll find a team that isn't Super (as in Super Bowl champion). But, then again, at this time last year, they weren't either.

A year ago at this time, the New England Patriots were 5-5 and looking to salvage a late run to make the playoffs.

What did they do? They ran off six straight wins and, thanks to a late-season tank job by the Raiders -- three straight losses -- New England got a bye in the first week of the playoffs. When they did play again, they beat the Raiders (and LB Greg Biekert) in a blizzard on a questionable call that will live for years. They then went on the road to beat the Steelers (and Vikings special teams coach Jay Hayes, who lost his job with the Steelers as a result of that game)in the AFC Championship. Then they pulled off one of the biggest Super Bowl upsets ever by beating the St. Louis Rams to become champion.

This Patriots team looks more like the one that went 5-5 to start last year than the one that finished 9-0. Tom Brady is on a path to break an 11-year old completion record set by Warren Moon in 1991. The Patriots have become one-dimensional on offense and aren't the complete team they were a year ago.

To date, if you look at the records of opponents, the Patriots have played four teams that have records of .500 or less. They've gone 4-0 in those games. Six of their opponents have winning records. Against those teams, the Patriots are 1-5.

This is a team that is beating the teams it should and losing to teams that are better than they are. After scoring 115 points to start the season 3-0, the Patriots have been 2-5 since. This is a team that could well get the same spark it got at this point last year and catapult back to the playoffs. Or it could be a team that sputters around .500 the rest of the season. Today's game with the Vikings could go a long way to answering which outcome they'll have.

* VU would like to thank all of you that clicked on to the Chunky Soup website's Click for Cans campaign. The company met its goal of 5 million cans of soup being donated to food shelves throughout the country and Vikings fans helped Minnesota finished third with 402,452 clicks. Once again, the Packers won the contest with an amazing 856,762 -- twice as many as second place Buffalo.
* In other Chunky-related news, agents may not be willing to have their players sign on as spokesmen for Chunky. Their soup campaign has featured four NFL players in the last year. Terrell Davis was injured in training camp and retired. QB Kurt Warner has missed the last five games with a thumb injury. Jerome Bettis has been sidelined for a month with a leg injury. Finally Donovan McNabb suffered a broken ankle last week and is likely gone for the season. There's long been talk of a "Sports Illustrated" cover jinx, but the Chunky Soup jinx? Let's hope no Vikings start doing their commercials with their moms any time soon.
* The last time the Vikings won a road game was two years ago yesterday -- a Thanksgiving Day win at Dallas.
* In the Vikings' 15 straight road losses, they've been outscored by an average of 31-15 in those games.
* Michael Bennett can tie Robert Smith's team record of five straight 100-yard games today.
* Bennett's 853 yards rushing is second in the NFC, behind only Deuce McAllister of New Orleans. Both of them were first-round picks in the 2001 draft and the first RB taken that season -- San Diego's LaDainian Tomlinson -- leads the NFL in rushing. This could the top of a RB class that will bear watching over time.
* The Patriots' red zone defense is one of the worst in league history. Opponents have scored touchdowns on 71 percent of red zone possessions (24 of 34) this season -- by far the worst in the league.
* Since starting 0-4 the season, the Vikings are 3-3 in the last six games.
* The two matchups to watch on each side of the ball should be apparent early and often today. The Vikings have the No. 1-rated run offense in the NFL, while the Pats have the 25th-rated rush defense. On the flip side, the Patriots have the sixth-rated pass offense, while the Vikes are the dubious owners of the 31st-rated pass defense.
* With two touchdown passes today, Daunte Culpepper will pass Warren Moon and move into fourth place on the all-time Vikings passing TD list with 59 TDs. He'll likely move into third place by season's end. Wade Wilson holds that mark with 66. However, after that it will take awhile. Tommy Kramer is second with 159 and Fran Tarkenton holds the franchise record with 239 TDs.

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