Perry: Patriots have big opportunity with Thanksgiving slop against Vikes originally appeared on NBC Sports Boston
At his postgame press conference, Bill Belichick looked and sounded like a coach just engaged in a three-hour football marathon to hit the mole.
“Disappointing to be a little short,” Belichick said after his team lost to the Vikings, 33-26, on Thanksgiving. “But we made too many mistakes that they took advantage of, and that’s really the difference in a match.”
Mistakes. They were everywhere. Like rodents, raising their heads for air, at the worst possible moments.
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For the first time in a long time, however, it wasn’t Belichick’s offense that was the worst. In fact, it was the best game second year quarterback Mac Jones has played this season. He threw for 382 yards and two touchdowns. He averaged 9.8 yards per attempt, put together a 119.8 quarterback rating, and the Patriots offense averaged 7.4 yards per game. It was accurate. He has made good decisions. The ball was never really in danger.
But as soon as the offense started clicking, other areas of Belichick’s team — areas that had been solid for weeks — suffered game-changing incidents.
On special teams they allowed a kickoff return for a touchdown. Neo. Special team Rookie Pierre Strong ran into the Minnesota punter, extending their drive, which resulted in the game-winning touchdown. Neo.
Defensively, they were marked for three 15-yard penalty. Neo. They let Justin Jefferson tear them apart (nine catches, 139 yards, one touchdown) despite consistent double teams. Neo. Their pass rush wasn’t a factor against an offensive line that allowed seven sacks four days earlier. Neo. They were tagged six times for 55 yards. Neo.
The lack of attention to detail even extended to the offensive side of the ball, despite their numbers. They went just 3 for 10 on third down. They went 0 of 3 in the red zone. They erased scoring opportunities at the end of the half by not stopping the clock on two separate occasions. They were bombed in the time of possession game, playing just 55 offensive snaps (the second-lowest total of the season for them) and having the football just under 24 minutes.
It wasn’t supposed to look like that. The Patriots had more time to prepare for the Vikings as they were lucky enough to face the Jets following their Week 10 bye. They had just seen the Jets in Week 8. Prep for that divisional matchup didn’t require most of the New England holiday week. That’s when Minnesota, which didn’t have the same luxury, started in earnest, coming off tough games against the Bills and Cowboys.
Yet the Patriots, faced with a rookie head coach like Kevin O’Connell, still looked like the team that wasn’t ready. And while there were general reasons to cheer them – the offense, and Mac Jones in particular, have finally shown explosive playability – the self-inflicted mistakes that have plagued them must be equally daunting. And they raise questions that didn’t exist at such high decibels prior to Week 12.
Can the Patriots defense hold up against more competent quarterbacks leading powerful passing attacks? Can their special squad units hold out on a weekly basis? Can they play smart when they absolutely have to?
Their Thanksgiving pie has lost them a winnable game. Period. And now they’re headed for a rough ride that could end with them looking back on the holiday and wondering what would have happened if they’d been able to play a little cleaner.