Patriots launch December push by overwhelming Vikings

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – The New England Patriots sent the Minnesota Vikings back down to earth with a 24-10 victory at Gillette Stadium Sunday night.

The Patriots (9-3) picked up their second consecutive victory and their eighth in the last nine outings. Meanwhile, Minnesota dropped to 6-5-1 after losing their third game in the last five outings.

Here are three things we learned in this game.

1. It’s that time of year

Entering Sunday, the Patriots were already in good shape in the AFC playoff picture. But things have seemed kind of off at various points during the season. Not to worry, however. It’s December, and this is the time of year when the Tom Brady and Co. buckle down and round into postseason form.

Brady wasn’t exactly electrifying Sunday night, but he and the Patriots methodically dismantled the Vikings to earn the victory. With the win, Brady improved to 59-11 in the month of December. That’s a record for wins by a quarterback in the final month of the season, and Brady’s .843 win percentage in December is the second-best behind Roger Staubach’s .850.

Part of what makes the Patriots so good is that they can beat teams in such a variety of ways. The recipe for success against Minnesota didn’t call for frequent downfield passes or a heavy dose of wide receiver Josh Gordon or tight end Rob Gronkowski. The usually reliable Julian Edelman didn't even make a lot of noise. Instead, the Patriots ran the football (Sony Michel, James White and Rex Burkhead combined for 30 carries and 109 yards), and Brady also dumped the ball off underneath to his backs. White led the team with seven catches for 92 yards.

But then in the closing minutes of the third quarter, after the Vikings tied the game at 10, it was as if Brady decided to stop messing around and went on the aggressive, leading a four-play, 75-yard scoring drive that featured a 23-yard completion to Gordon, a 15-yard toss to Gronkowski and a 24-yard touchdown to Gordon. (That was Brady’s 579th career touchdown pass, including the postseason, which tied him for first all-time with Peyton Manning, and his 508th regular-season scoring pass, which tied him for third on that list with Brett Favre). Basically, the Patriots have the ability to do whatever they want, whenever they want. 

2. Vikings just aren’t up to par

Kirk Cousins and Co. earned a big win over the Packers last week to buoy their playoff hopes. But Minnesota couldn’t find a way to bring that momentum with them to Foxborough.

The Vikings looked flat for much of the game. Sure, their defense did a good job of limiting the Patriots. But offensively, Minnesota lacked the explosive, game-changing production that they would have needed to beat a squad of New England’s caliber. The Vikings weren’t able to dictate the tempo and style of the game as they would have liked. New England’s defensive backs kept Pro Bowl wide receivers Stefon Diggs and Adam Thielen in check and forced Cousins to quickly dump the ball off to running back Dalvin Cook to beat the pass rush. On his few deep ball attempts, Cousins struggled with accuracy. Cousins also threw two fourth-quarter interceptions.

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