Tom Brady threw for three touchdowns in the first half as the Patriots built a big lead before holding on for a 24-17 victory over the Vikings, who continued to struggle on the road.
It was another unpleasant trip away from the Metrodome for the Vikings, who fell behind 21-0 in the second quarter en route to their 16th straight road loss, including playoffs.
Minnesota has dropped 15 straight regular-season road games, putting it within eight of tying the NFL record set by the Houston Oilers (1981-84).
“We have to do something to get over it,” Vikings quarterback Daunte Culpepper said. “We are just not doing enough on the road to win. But we have to win home or away. We just need to win games.”
Brady helped extend the Vikings’ road woes, throwing touchdown passes of nine, one and five yards in the first half.
“We got off to a fast start and that takes a lot for a team to overcome,” Brady said. “It was 21-0 at one point and we had the game under control. It’s funny how fast things can change.”
New England (6-5) remained one game behind first-place Miami in the AFC East.
“I thought we had, obviously, a pretty good start to the game, especially offensively,” Patriots coach Bill Belichick said. “I thought that in the end, defensively, we made some plays in the passing game. Fortunately, we were able to make enough plays in the end to win.”
Employing a “no-huddle” offense for much of the second half, the Vikings (3-8) tried to rally behind Daunte Culpepper, who passed for 272 yards and two touchdowns.
While they played well in the second half, the Vikings’ early deficit had to be attributed to miscues. In the first half, Minnesota lost three fumbles and had six penalties for 64 yards.
Brady and the Patriots took full advantage, scoring on their first three possessions. But what looked like it was going to be a rout turned into a nail-biter in the second half.
After Culpepper threw six-yard touchdown pass to D’Wayne Bates with 19 seconds left in the first half, the Vikings got closer in the third quarter.
This time, Culpepper capped a seven-play, 44-yard drive with a seven-yard TD pass to Kelly Campbell, pulling the Vikings within 21-14.
Michael Bennett had a 21-yard run and Culpepper scampered for 17 more late in the third quarter. That highlighted a nine-play, 56-yard drive that Gary Anderson capped with a 38-yard field goal 18 seconds into the fourth quarter, making it 21-17.
After four straight 100-yard games, Bennett was held in check by the Patriots, rushing for 55 yards on 14 attempts.
New England easily moved the ball in the first half, but became a bit more conservative after intermission when Minnesota got back in the game.
Brady completed 7-of-16 passes for 90 yards in the second half, leading the Patriots to only a field goal. He was 14-of-18 for 129 yards and three scores in the first half.
Adam Vinatieri capped the march with a 34-yard field goal 3:51 into the fourth quarter, giving the Patriots a 24-17 lead.
Culpepper, who completed 24-of-49 passes, continued to move the Vikings as they drove inside the Patriots 20. But the drive stalled and Anderson missed a 41-yard field goal with 7:37 remaining. Anderson had a 43-yard field goal blocked in the first half.
Minnesota’s best chance to tie the game came after it reached the New England 49 with 3:25 left. But on 4th-and-15 and without a timeout, the Vikings went and Culpepper threw an incompletion.
“Putting yourself in a hole and then having to battle the remainder of the game or half to just get even takes so much energy,” Vikings coach Mike Tice said. “So many plays you have to make in order to come out on top.”
Tice also talked about his club’s different offensive approach.
“The no-huddle gave us a spark,” he said. “We knew we were going to do the no-huddle today but we wanted to wait until the crowd would not impact it. That was the reason why we waited a little bit into the game to do it. In retrospect, we should have started with it.”
It did not look like the game would be decided in the fourth quarter after the Patriots scored on their first three possessions to build a 21-0 lead.
Brady was right on target early on, connecting on 11 of his first 13 passes with three of the completions going for touchdowns.
On the Patriots’ first drive, Brady found tight end Christian Fauria for a nine-yard touchdown. He hit Fauria from one yard early in the second, extending the lead to 14-0.
After Culpepper lost a fumble on the Vikings’ ensusing possession, Brady moved the Patriots 61 yards in five plays. This time, he found Troy Brown over the middle for a six-yard TD, extending the lead to 21-0 with 8:02 left in the half.
“Of course when you score on your first three possessions like that, it’s great,” Brown said. “But we have to continue to be more consistent. Things are going to happen but we have to fight through it, which we did.”
Brady spread out the ball the entire day, completing passes to eight different receivers.