MINNEAPOLIS — During Sunday’s game against the Patriots, things got so bad for Matt Cassel, the Vikings quarterback of the present, that fans at TCF Bank Stadium began calling for Teddy Bridgewater, the team’s quarterback of the future.
Cassel, essentially holding the seat warm until Bridgewater, a first-round pick this year, is ready to take over, had an utterly forgettable performance against his former team, throwing four interceptions, three of which led to points for the Patriots.
Throw in some improved special teams play, including a blocked field goal returned for a touchdown, and the Patriots looked much better during their 30-7 victory against the Vikings than they did a week earlier in a lackluster effort against the Dolphins.
The Patriots avoided their first 0-2 start since the 2001 season, and the victory was the 200th in the regular season for Bill Belichick as a head coach, making him just the sixth to reach that milestone.
Sunday was about rebounding: About the Patriots rebounding from their loss to Miami; about Chandler Jones rebounding from two costly penalties in that game; about the special teams unit atoning for its poor outing against the Dolphins; and even about the defense rebounding from a terrible opening series in which the Vikings marched 80 yards in seven plays to take a 7-0 lead.
Team captain Devin McCourty said he knew Monday the Patriots would bounce back when the leaders of the team arrived at Gillette Stadium ready to correct the mistakes of the day before — and start preparing for the Vikings.
Fellow captain Vince Wilfork agreed.
“I thought we had a great week of practice, we prepared well, and it showed today,” Wilfork said. “Guys came to work. We didn’t have our heads held low coming off an awful loss. Guys came to work, ready to go on Monday. We’re going to need the same thing this week.”
The Vikings were without star running back Adrian Peterson, who was deactivated because he was indicted and arrested on reckless or negligent injury of a child.
Wilfork was actually disappointed the Patriots didn’t get to face Peterson.
“He’s one of the best in the game at that position,’’ Wilfork said. “Coming off a performance like we did at Miami [allowing 193 rushing yards on 35 carries to Knowshon Moreno and Lamar Miller combined], we thought it was a big deal for us to face another guy, one of the best in the league, to see where we’re at defensively. But the way we played today, I think we played very well.’’
Peterson’s backup, Matt Asiata, filled Peterson’s shoes early on when he was wide open for a screen pass on Minnesota’s first possession and ran it 25 yards for the game’s opening touchdown.
As it turned out, that was the Vikings’ only TD of the day.
The Patriots adjusted. They adjusted so well that after surrendering 75 yards of offense on that opening drive, which took 4 minutes and 6 seconds, the Vikings had just 142 total yards of offense the rest of the game.
“They had scripted plays, maybe the first couple of series, and showed some new things,” Patriots cornerback Darrelle Revis said. “And we had to adjust to it. Football, it’s a long game; we get four quarters, and things happen. We kind of just settled in, we adjusted to everything, and we were fine.”
“Fine” didn’t take long. After the Patriots’ first offensive possession, a three-and-out in which Tom Brady (15 for 22, 149 yards, touchdown) handed off each time, Cassel came back out and made his first mistake.
He threw deep for Jarius Wright on a second-and-long play. Wright had a step on cornerback Kyle Arrington, but McCourty, coming across center field, made a great play on the ball, intercepting it and nearly taking it to the end zone. He was knocked out of bounds a yard shy of the goal line.
Stevan Ridley punched the ball in two plays later, tying the score, 7-7.
The Patriots never looked back.
Revis had the second interception, breaking on a ball intended for veteran Greg Jennings, whom Revis guarded exclusively.
Brady hit Julian Edelman (six catches, 81 yards) for two big plays after the turnover: a 44-yard catch-and-run that put the Patriots just at the Minnesota 21, and later a 9-yard touchdown, finding Edelman in the left corner despite getting drilled by Vikings linebacker Chad Greenway as he released the ball.
Suddenly, the Patriots had a 17-7 lead.
For all the concern about the Patriots’ offensive line after last week’s performance, Brady was sacked only once, though the effectiveness of the run game, a variety of quick passes, and the heavy use of rookie Cameron Fleming as a sixth lineman, particularly in the first half, helped a great deal.
Though he said he was happy with the first win of the season, Brady’s demeanor at the postgame podium suggested otherwise.
“I am happy we won, I just wish we went out there and played like we’re capable,” he said. “It’s just the way it is. I am glad we won, it was a great team win, a lot of guys contributed, a lot of great plays were made. Hopefully offensively we can do a better job next week.”
Part of Brady’s concern could have stemmed from the offense’s 5-for-14 (36 percent) conversion rate on third downs, or perhaps from his continued frustration with some of his receivers. He targeted Danny Amendola all of twice in the game, with Amendola’s one reception, a third-down catch, wiped away by an Aaron Dobson penalty, and he looked tight end Tim Wright’s way only once and at receiver Brandon LaFell not at all.
Or Brady might be concerned about his offensive line, which was penalized six times.
Four of those came on one drive late in the third quarter. Nate Solder was flagged twice on one play, for an illegal block above the waist and holding, with the block penalty declined, and was penalized on the next snap for a false start. Later Jordan Devey was penalized for holding.
The 25 yards in penalties negated the 21 yards in penalties called on the Vikings during the drive, and the Devey holding call effectively ended it, forcing the Patriots to attempt a field goal.
The field goal gave the Patriots a 30-7 lead, but nonetheless, Brady is not happy when his group is not efficient.
Chandler Jones, who had a strong game with 8 tackles, 2 sacks and 3 tackles for losses, gave the Patriots a 24-7 halftime lead when he blocked a 48-yard field goal try by Blair Walsh, scooping up the ball and returning it 58 yards for the touchdown nine seconds before the break.
It was Logan Ryan’s interception in the third quarter, on another deep pass intended for Patterson, that led to the “Teddy! Teddy!” chants for the first time of the day.
After the game, coach Mike Zimmer said Cassel would be his starter in Week 3, when Minnesota travels to New Orleans.
A relaxed Belichick said, “That was a real great team win for us today. We got contributions from all three areas. Offensively we had a more balanced attack than we had last week, which is what we needed. Defensively we had a lot of turnovers, plus the blocked kick. That’s a good formula.”Shalise Manza Young can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.