Patriots’ breakdown: The best, worst (and everything in between)
FOXBOROUGH — OK, OK, so James Develin isn’t perfect. But that’s perfectly OK.
New England’s battering-ram fullback was batting 1.000 at one point Sunday when he rumbled in for his second touchdown of the day to help the Patriots seal a 24-10 win over Vikings before 65,878 at Gillette Stadium.
It came on Develin’s third carry of the season — all resulting in touchowns. His average dipped to .600 after a couple of late clock-killing totes, but he certainly didn’t mind. The only statistic he really cared about was the one added to the win column as the Patriots improved to 9-3.
“It was awesome, but I really have to give all the props to the offensive line,’’ said Develin. “All I do is get the ball, follow those guys, and fall forward.’’
With the Patriots having struggled in short-yardage and red-zone offense this season, the solution may have been right under their noses all along in the form of the 6-foot-3-inch, 255-pound Develin, who is better known for crashing into defenders than into the end zone.
“Whenever my number’s called I just have to go out there and get whatever we need done,’’ said Develin, who joked that he “maybe” is finally a viable fantasy football option.
Develin’s performance came on a day when the Patriots distributed the ball about as well as they have all season.
Seven players rushed the ball for 160 yards — including the 1,000th of Tom Brady’s career — while Brady hit nine receivers for 311 yards and touchdown to Josh Gordon.
“Yep, that was pretty good,’’ said Brady. “That makes it hard for them to defend us. So, good to have that happen and hopefully we can keep it going.’’
A GRAND ACHIEVEMENT
Brady’s 19-year march to 1,000 rushing yards was achieved when the quarterback converted a third and 3 with a 5-yard scramble in the first quarter.
He flashed a quick smile toward the sideline and signaled first down before popping up but chose to downplay the milestone after the game.
“[I’ve] just played a lot of football and obviously I’m not a scrambler, but hopefully I can make a couple of plays running for it. Made a good third down on that one,’’ Brady said. “I just give a lot of credit to the offensive line. They blocked their tails off today against a good front, and I don’t want to make too much of a 4- or 5-yard gain. That wasn’t really the difference in the game.’’
Rex Burkhead gave the offense a boost with his return to the backfield. The versatile tailback had seven carries for 20 yards and caught two passes for 21 yards.
Burkhead had been on injured reserve since suffering a neck injury in Week 3 at Detroit.
“I felt good going into it and whatever they wanted me to do I was more than happy to do that,’’ said Burkhead.
HE SCORED IN A FLASH
Josh Gordon had a strange day. The receiver was only targeted three times — all in the second half — with two coming on the same drive, which ended with Gordon’s 24-yard touchdown.
He finished with three catches for 58 yards and zero complaints about his usage.
“I didn’t really question the game plan, I just went along with it,’’ he said. “It seemed to work in our favor, and the coaches, my trust is in the coaches, [and] I think they trust me. So, it worked out for us.’’
The Patriots did a tremendous job of mixing their looks and keeping Kirk Cousins guessing. The Vikings quarterback never looked comfortable and never was able to establish a rhythm.
Cousins completed 32 of 44 passes for 201 yards — averaging just 6.3 yards per completion — and was sacked twice.
The Patriots waited until the last second to set their defense and also dialed up some well-timed blitzes. Cousins faced heavy pressure on third downs and the Vikings were only able to convert 3 of 12.
“I think it [caused] a lot of confusion by not allowing [Cousins] to be comfortable presnap and when it comes to postsnap just being able to execute — being on the right guys and being in the right position, so that was one of the things we focused on this week,’’ said Trey Flowers, who dropped Cousins for a 10-yard sack.
THE FORCE IS STRONG
Safety Obi Melifonwu played a lot in New England’s dime package and was frequently charged with covering Kyle Rudolph, one of the top tight ends in the game. Rudolph finished with just three catches for 38 yards, with 23 coming on one play.
Melifonwu’s size (6 feet 4 inches, 224 pounds), long arms, and athleticism allow him to thrive against bigger players.
“He did a tremendous job — he’s big and he’s strong,’’ said safety Duron Harmon, who had a fourth-quarter interception. “Around here, if you’ve got a trait or an intangible that’s going to help us win, we’re going to put you out there and let you do your thing, and that’s what he did today, so hats off to him.’’
J.C. Jackson seemingly supplanted Jonathan Jones as the Patriots primary nickel back and he did a solid job and had a hand in quelling one of the league’s top receivers in Adam Thielen, who came into the game leading the league in receptions but was held to five for 28 yards.
Jackson is sticky player with good physicality and doesn’t allow much separation. He was credited with a pass defensed on Duron Harmon’s fourth-quarter interception in the end zone.
Jones played just two snaps but sealed the game when he ended any hopes of a Vikings comeback by picking off Kirk Cousins.
QUOTE OF THE DAY
“They were paving open holes all game long, really. Those guys are a bunch of dogs and it’s great to work with them,’’ James Develin, praising his offensive line.
Tight end Rob Gronkowski missed one snap after a hard hit from safety Harrison Smith in the fourth quarter (Josh Gordon scored on the only play Gronkowski missed). Patrick Chung had to leave for a brief time in the final quarter with an undisclosed injury. Both players returned in short order. The Vikings lost cornerback Trae Wayans because of a concussion.
NEXT WEEK: AT MIAMI
The Patriots travel to South Beach for their annual not-so-fun in the sun battle with the Dolphins, who improved to 6-6 Sunday.
Ryan Tannehill is back at the controls for the Dolphins, who are clinging to their playoff lives. New England has lost two of its last three games in Miami.