Matt Cassel and Matt Asiata carved up the Patriots defense, Miami Dolphins-style, on the first series of Sunday's game at TCF Bank Stadium and the annual guarantee that the Patriots are good for at least 11 wins per season seemed as though its expiration date was finally closing in.
But Devin McCourty's interception and 60-yard return of a Cassel pass at the 7:16 mark of the first quarter signaled the beginning of a textbook Patriots road win and offered assurance that New England will once again be in the mix for AFC supremacy. The Patriots torched Minnesota, 30-7, to move to 1-1 on the 2014 season. The Pats host the Raiders next Sunday (1 p.m., CBS).
With 19 seconds remaining in the second quarter, Chandler Jones blocked a Blair Walsh field goal attempt, scooped the ball up off the ground himself and outraced the Vikings’ special teams unit 58 yards for a highlight reel touchdown. Jones’ score put the Patriots up 24-7 heading into halftime.
The New England defense lived up to pre-season expectations against the Vikings as it picked off Cassel four times total. Darrelle Revis grabbed his first interception as a member of the Patriots just over a minute into the second quarter as he stepped in front of Vikings receiver Greg Jennings. Rookie defensive lineman Dominique Easley laid out to grab his first career interception with 6:41 remaining in the game, cradling the ball after it was deflected off a Minnesota receiver.
With Vikings star Adrian Peterson deactivated prior to the game, having been indicted on charges of reckless or negligent injury to a child, the Patriots had the best running back on the field Sunday in Stevan Ridley. The Pats made a point of getting Ridley involved early and often Sunday and the back responded with 101 yards of rushing and a touchdown on 25 carries.
Tom Brady was efficient, hitting on 15-of-22 passes for 149 yards and a touchdown. Brady did not throw an interception and finished with a 102.3 rating. Julian Edelman led the Pats in receiving with 81 yards and a touchdown on six catches.
Here are three things that went right for New England:
All lined up
Tom Brady was sacked just once against the Vikings after unceremoniously being dumped four times against the Dolphins last week. He had much more time in the pocket, showing that the Pats’ offensive line corrected a few things last week in practice. The line also did a tremendous job opening holes for Stevan Ridley, who finished with 101 yards rushing on 25 carries. Shane Vereen added 40 yards on the ground on six carries.
The Vikings were without Adrian Peterson, so if their offense was going to have a big day it would likely fall on the shoulders of Cordarrelle Patterson, who ran wild on the Rams last week. But the Pats did a nice job containing Patterson, who finished with four catches for 56 yards. Matt Asiata, who got the start at running back was held to 36 yards on 13 carries. Credit the Patriots defense, which had multiple players step up. Donta Hightower had a pair of sacks, as did Chandler Jones. Devin McCourty, Darrelle Revis, Logan Ryan and Dominique Easley each had interceptions.
Different ways to skin a cat
A trademark of championship Patriots teams has been their ability to do something entirely different than they did the week prior and to do it well. Feeding Ridley the ball was surprising, particularly because Shane Vereen was effective early in this one, as he was last week early on against the Dolphins. But the Pats made it a point to establish the run with Ridley in Minnesota, giving him the ball 25 times. He carried the ball just eight times last week in Miami. They also didn’t have to lean on Rob Gronkowski, as it looked like they were trying to do last week early on. Gronkowski caught four balls for 32 years and was targeted six times against the Vikings.
Follow Metro Boston sports editor Matt Burke on Twitter: @BurkeMetroBOS