FOXBOROUGH - Analyze and dissect it all you want. Call it ugly. Call it winning by the skin of your teeth. But, as Tedy Bruschi said following yesterday’s 24-17 win over the Vikings, “it’s a win and at this stage of the season, a win is important no matter how you get it.”
The rest of it was a sideshow - an interesting sideshow.
Among the more interesting things was Randy Moss running halfhearted routes and asking out after running a deep pattern, leaving the Vikings with no deep threat on a third-and-20 in the third quarter. Another development was some ticked off Patriots upset with the boos at Gillette Stadium during the second half.
“That,” said one player, “was pretty weak.”
Minnesota defensive tackle Chris Hovan had some interesting postgame comments.
“I’m gonna tell you what . . . New England, in the third and fourth quarters, didn’t want to play. It was evident,” said Hovan, the former Boston College standout. “They were just trying to make it through the game.”
One of the more interesting plays was the Patriots, despite having just nine men on the field, sacking Minnesota’s Daunte Culpepper one play before Culpepper hit Kelly Campbell on a 7-yard scoring pass to bring the Vikings within 21-14.
After seizing a 21-0 lead, the Patriots, who improved to 6-5 and are tied with the Jets for second place in the AFC East behind the Dolphins (7-4), basically held off a pretty poor Vikings team for the win.
New England did accomplish a couple of its goals. No. 1, the Patriots started quickly as Tom Brady hit tight end Christian Fauria with two short touchdown passes and Troy Brown with a third in the first 22 minutes. No. 2, the Patriots balanced their offense with 34 passes and 33 runs.
What they failed to do, however, was to put Minnesota away.
“When you smell blood, you have to go after it,” said Brady, who completed 21 of 34 passes for 239 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions and also had a half-dozen passes dropped. “Maybe we get lackadaisical at times.”
The Vikings (3-8) shook off three first-half turnovers, an army of ill-timed penalties, and a 21-0 deficit by pounding home a score before the end of the first half and another early in the third quarter.
They were driving for a tying score using the no-huddle offense that had been so successful since late in the first half, but were stalled by a pair of incompletions and had to settle for Gary Anderson’s 38-yard field goal to narrow the deficit to 21-17 just 18 seconds into the fourth quarter.
That took some of the wind out of the Vikings’ sails, because the visitors had to play the final quarter against the wind. The Patriots then mounted their only scoring drive of the second half, keyed by back-to-back screen passes to Antowain Smith (26 yards) and Marc Edwards (27) to the Minnesota 19.
There’s been a call to run the football lately, and offensive coordinator Charlie Weis must be listening. Weis called three consecutive runs - two for Smith and one for Kevin Faulk. The runs gained a total of 3 yards and the hosts settled for Adam Vinatieri’s 34-yard field goal, restoring a 7-point lead with 11:09 remaining.
The Vikings moved the ball down field on their ensuing possession. Culpepper found Moss twice during the drive, advancing to the Patriots 23. However, on third and 9, throwing into the teeth of a stiff wind, Culpepper’s pass to Campbell was way off the mark. Coach Mike Tice then made the curious call to try a 41-yard field goal with 7:42 left. The 43-year-old Anderson’s attempt was knocked down by the wind.
The game was far from over, but it was obvious the Patriots, playing with the wind, had a huge advantage. The Vikings managed a couple of first down on their next possession, but Richard Seymour, who played one of his strongest games of the season, sacked Culpepper for a 4-yard loss and the quarterback threw incompletions on third and fourth down.
The Patriots were unable to run out the clock, however, and Culpepper and Co. got one more chance.
After picking up a pair of first downs (one on a penalty), the Minnesota QB ended the day with four straight incompletions.
It was Seymour who foiled a nice opening drive by the Vikings and set the tone for the Patriots when he blocked Anderson’s 43-yard attempt in the first quarter. The Patriots went into short-pass mode after catching a huge break when a Smith fumble was overturned because Smith was down before the ball came out. The Patriots went down the field and Brady, avoiding a couple of sacks, connected with Fauria for 9 yards and the score.
After Lawyer Milloy and Victor Green combined for a jolting hit on Moss on the next series, the Patriots got the benefit of a 26-yard punt and took over at the 44. In eight plays, they went 56 yards, with Brady finding Fauria for a 1-yard score to make it 14-0 with 12:30 remaining in the second quarter.
“[The first score] was a broken play, and the other we’ve been working on the last four or five weeks. Tom had an opportunity to run it,” said Fauria, who has caught six of Brady’s 24 touchdown passes. “When they start calling your number out there in the red zone it’s flattering, but at the same time they [the defenders] know.”
The Patriots, who held running back Michael Bennett to 55 yards (though the Vikings ran for 153 yards on 25 carries) came up with one of three Viking turnovers on the next possession when Culpepper fumbled and Victor Green, starting at free safety in place of Tebucky Jones (out with a leg injury), recovered at the Vikings 29. A 17-yard pass from Brady to Daniel Graham moved the Patriots to the 18. A few plays later, Brady hit Brown for a 5-yard score with 8:02 remaining in the second quarter.
Roman Phifer forced fumbles on consecutive series, but the Patriots couldn’t cash in. The costliest was by Bennett at the Patriots’ 10 with 4:59 remaining in the half. Mike Vrabel pounced on that loose ball.
The Patriots got as far as their own 47 and punted.
Two plays later, though, the Vikings turned it right back, with Phifer knocking the ball loose from Moss, and Seymour recovering at the Minnesota 31 with 2:14 to go.
The Patriots stalled this time, and turned it over on downs when Brady was sacked at the Minnesota 31.
“If we could have taken that in we could have put the game away right then and there,” said Brady, who now must prepare for Thursday’s game at Detroit.
The Vikings took it down the field, highlighted by Culpepper’s 15-yard run and two passes for 28 yards to Campbell. On first and goal from the 6, Culpepper found a wide open D’Wayne Bates for the score with 19 seconds left in the half and giving the Vikings some momentum.
“We had a self-checking at the half,” said Phifer. “We were concerned we were getting complacent. They have a lot of talent, but we have to learn to keep them down and make it decisive.”
It was not decisive, but it was a win in Week 12, and that keeps the Patriots alive for Week 13. And right now, that’s the best they can do.