When Bill Belichick brought the troops together after the season-opening loss in Miami, he looked directly to the veterans and leaders in his locker room to send a message. Losing two straight to open a season doesn’t happen in New England.
Apparently the captains did their job and got the message across. Certainly, the Patriots coach felt that way after Sunday’s 30-7 rout of the Vikings on the road.
“[That] felt good,” Belichick said. “Every win feels good. It felt good, felt real good. Just proud of the way our team played today. We had a lot of good players. I thought our captains did a real good job this week coming off last week’s disappointing game in Miami. We got great leadership from our veterans and our captains. Our team played hard today.”
Certainly, it didn’t start out well. The Vikings went 80 yards on the game’s opening drive, marching down the field for a touchdown as the Patriots linebackers were caught out of position. But those would be the only points of the game as he, defensive coordinator Matt Patricia and Patriots veterans made adjustments. Those adjustments produced four interceptions of Matt Cassel and six quarterback sacks, two apiece by Chandler Jones and Dont’a Hightower.
“Chandler has played well for us and is a good player,” Belichick said. “Again, anytime you can get that kind of a lead like we did and you saw the reverse of that last week, it becomes a one-dimensional game and those guys can just do their thing, tee off on the quarterback and all that. That’s a defensive lineman’s dream. We were able to capitalize on it and get some pressure on the quarterback. Our ability to make plays, to get ahead to create that situation really had a lot to do with it, too. But he did a good job, got good pass rush from all those guys, Rob, Chandler, Hightower, Easley, Vince, a bunch of guys got to the quarterback.
“The turnovers were huge. Most of those plays were on balls down the field. They got us early in the game on some misdirection plays, a crossing route to Rudolph, a crossing route back to the tight end off the play-action and a cross-boot for a touchdown. We need to do a better job on staying at home, defending our areas, not over-pursuing. We kind of got caught on that in the first drive. They had a good group of plays and were definitely able to execute them well. That was a good drive.”
Offensively, the Patriots ran the ball effectively, taking the pressure of Tom Brady, who was happy with the win but not the execution.
“Offensively, we had a more balanced attack than we had last week, which is what we needed. We had a lot of runs, play-actions, converted some big third downs, converted some red area opportunities,” Belichick said. “Defensively, we had a lot of turnovers plus the blocked kick. That’s a good formula.
“Obviously, there’s a lot of things we need to work on. We’re a long way from being where we need to be but we certainly made progress this week. Hopefully, we can go back and have another good week of practice and grind it out and continue to improve, which we need to do.”
Here are some other takeaways from Belichick postgame:
On the win:
“It’s good to come up here and see the team play as well as they did, play hard for each other, play well as a team, good complementary football from all three units. That’s what we need to do.”
On Chandler Jones’ field goal block return for a touchdown late in the first half:
“It’s a 10-point play. It was a huge play. We work on it every week and it’s was great to see it happen the way it did, see that hard work in practice pay off and become reality in a game. That’s what it’s all about.”
On the offensive game plan from Josh McDaniels:
“I thought Josh and the offensive staff did a great job with the game plan. We had some good opportunities to run the ball and that set up some play-action passes. We weren’t in a lot of long-yardage situations. There were some with penalties but we didn’t have a lot of negative plays where we got blown up in the backfield or anything like that. So, I thought the staff did a great job, our offensive line, our tight ends, James Develin is part of that. They blocked well, Stevan ran hard and the backs all ran well. It was good to see that. Then that certainly helped us in the passing game set up some passing opportunities and also kept us out of long yardage.”
On the better execution defensively:
“Absolutely. Blocking and tackling were the two biggest points of emphasis this week. I think we did improve. We can still do better. Taking care of the ball, turning the ball over, blocking and tackling, those are the fundamentals that we need to well in. Obviously, we had too many penalties which again negated some good plays and gave them extra opportunities so we have to do a better job on the penalty front. But I thought the fundamentals of blocking, tackling, turnovers, ball security, ball protection, running with the ball, I thought our back ran well. We made some plays with the ball in our hands.”
On containing Minnesota’s Marcus Sherels and Cordarrelle Patterson on special teams:
“I thought our special teams really responded. This is a huge challenge. Sherels and Patterson were the top return tandem in the league last year. Those two guys are great. Walsh is a good kicker. They’ve got real good special teams units. Joe Marciano is an excellent coach and has done a good job. We knew it was a big challenge to come in here with their units, their specialists, the production they’ve had in the past and the schemes they have. But our guys really met the challenge. Slater and certainly our specialist, Julian [Edelman], Danny [Aiken], Ryan [Allen], Steve [Gostkowski], those guys played well, and anytime your specialists play well, there’s a good chance your special teams are going to play well. So, those guys did a good job. We downed some punts down inside the 20, gave us an opportunity for good field position so they really did look good.”
On linebacker Deonte Skinner and his NFL debut:
“Probably some things that were OK and probably some other things we need to sharpen up on. We felt like we had to make that move just for the game with Jamie not being able to go. Deonte has had a couple of good weeks on the practice squad and in practice. It’s an opportunity for him. I think he was mentally ready to take advantage of it. I’m sure he’ll get better as he continues to play and the guys that have played that have played a lot football for us this year.”