MINNEAPOLIS (AP)—Minnesota counts itself among the many NFL franchises trying to copy the New England Patriots’ plan for success. The Vikings learned on Monday night that they still have a lot of catching up to do.
Tom Brady beat Minnesota’s relentless rushing defense by simply throwing over it for 372 yards and touchdowns to four different receivers, and the Patriots pounded the Vikings 31-7 on Monday night to win their sixth straight regular-season road game.
New England’s defense had four sacks and four interceptions, forcing Brad Johnson into a handful of uncharacteristic mistakes.
“The plan was to come out and put the ball in the air a little bit,” Brady said, grinning. “The receivers made a lot of great plays, and it was a lot of fun, needless to say.”
Still firing well into the fourth quarter, Brady didn’t let up—going 29-of-43 to beat a defense that had been pretty decent against the pass, too.
New England (6-1) more than doubled Minnesota’s average of allowing 15.8 points per game, setting the tone for an easy victory with an opening drive on which Brady completed all six of his throws for 94 yards.
“Whatever holes we had in the coverage, he found it,” Vikings safety Darren Sharper said.
Johnson was no match for the unflappable, three-time Pro Bowl quarterback. Picked off three times, Johnson was 20-of-33 for 185 yards and forced to watch from the sideline for the final 12 minutes when backup Brooks Bollinger went in.
“The turnovers played into that,” Vikings coach Brad Childress said, when asked about the switch. “It’s important you have respect for the football.”
Minnesota’s only score was a 71-yard punt return by Mewelde Moore in the third quarter, but Patriots rookie Laurence Maroney—playing in the stadium where he became a college star—answered that with a 74-yard kickoff return.
New England now has a big matchup, at least for November, at home against Indianapolis (7-0) on Sunday.
“We’re happy to win,” Patriots coach Bill Belichick said, “but it doesn’t get any easier. We have a tough challenge coming up this week against the Colts.”
The Vikings (4-3) proved they weren’t in their opponent’s class just yet. Playing their first Monday night home game in five years, they were consistently outschemed and outworked. The jazzed-up crowd of 63,819 lost the buzz by halftime.
“You come into this environment, and you see the fans leaving midway through the fourth quarter,” said Brady, who hasn’t lost in 10 NFL games indoors.
Well, he’s usually pretty good wherever he plays. Save for an up-for-grabs pass up the sideline that Sharper snagged for a one-handed interception as he fell down in the first quarter, Brady was brilliant.
The last time he was here, Brady was leading Michigan to a win over the University of Minnesota in 1998. And, boy, it sure looked like Brady was facing those defenseless Gophers again—not a Vikings team that had held every prior opponent to 19 points or less and entered the game ranked seventh in the league in total yards allowed.
First-year defensive coordinator Mike Tomlin has helped create a dominant unit, but his charges were embarrassed on each of New England’s three first-half scoring drives.
A frighteningly easy opening march ended with a 6-yard touchdown pass to Reche Caldwell. The Patriots drove 93 yards in eight plays to get a 23-yard field goal by Stephen Gostkowski in the second quarter. And just before halftime, they moved 74 yards in 11 plays to take a 17-0 lead on a 9-yard scoring toss to tight end Ben Watson.
Dillon and Maroney came into the game, combined, with nearly 700 yards rushing, but their impact was minimal except for Maroney’s momentous kickoff return.
No, it was all Brady in this one, slinging his usual darts all over the field to 10 different receivers. He started the game in the shotgun, with an empty backfield, and lined up in that five-wide set several times throughout the first half. Ten of New England’s first 11 plays were passes.
Minnesota just couldn’t keep up.
Childress has built the Vikings into a run-first, low-risk outfit that relies on a sound defense and a take-what-it-can-get offense to succeed. One problem with that is they’re not made for big rallies.
Their largest deficit to date was 17-3 against Detroit, and they overcame that with a 23-point fourth quarter three weeks ago. But after Troy Brown’s 7-yard touchdown catch, set up by Maroney’s return, Minnesota was down 24-7. On the next possession, Troy Williamson dropped a should-be touchdown on a long pass up the sideline when he failed to adjust to the ball as it arrived.
The Vikings, then, were out of opportunities. After a career-best 169 yards last week at Seattle, Chester Taylor was bottled up—gaining only 22 yards on 10 carries. He suffered a shoulder stinger in the third quarter and was a non-factor the entire night.
Brady gave rookie Chad Jackson his chance to score late in the third, a 10-yard completion that Jackson deftly converted by virtually crawling into the end zone to keep from falling down.
Mike Vrabel intercepted Johnson on the next possession, and when Minnesota had the ball again Bollinger was behind center. New England then provided the punctuation to a near-perfect night, forcing a three-and-out with three straight sacks.
“It’s probably one of the most embarrassing games I’ve been a part of,” Johnson said.
This was Brady’s first four-touchdown game since beating Buffalo on Dec. 27, 2003, a span of 47 starts. He also came in without a completion longer than 35 yards this season, but he had two passes of 40 yards or more in the first half. … Moore caught four passes for 91 yards.