The New England Patriots went on the road and nearly spoiled the Thanksgiving festivities for the Minnesota Vikings on Thursday.
But that effort came undone on a night when Vikings wide receiver Justin Jefferson seemed unguardable, along with quarterback Kirk Cousins stepping up in the primetime spotlight and making the plays he needed to get the victory.
Of course, the bad officiating didn’t help matters, either. It was just one of those frustrating nights where nothing seemed to be going the Patriots’ way.
There were obviously a lot of positive things to take away from the performance, but it’s still going to be one of those games that could potentially frustrate the team weeks down the road, especially if they fail to make the playoffs.
Here are the winners and losers from the road loss.
Winner: Mac Jones
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Let’s start at the top with the stellar performance Patriots quarterback Mac Jones had in the loss to the Vikings. Despite being without two starting offensive lineman, Jones stood tall in the pocket and had a field day with Minnesota’s defense, going 28-of-39 passing for 382 yards and two touchdowns.
You can see the offense coming together late in the season, and Jones’ improvements have been a big reason for the turnaround in the last few weeks. But the offensive line is in shambles, and the receiving corps is still sub-par at best. There really isn’t a lot to work with for Jones in the offense.
Yet, the fact that he was able to go on the road and outduel Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins, who has an embarrassment of riches at the skilled positions, was nothing short of spectacular.
Loser: Myles Bryant
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When Myles Bryant wasn’t tripping over his shoelaces in coverage, he was being flagged for a soul-crushing personal foul after delivering a scary hit on Vikings wideout Adam Thielen, who was clearly defenseless at the time.
It hasn’t always been bad when Bryant is in coverage, but his mistakes on the backend of the defense have loomed large. Rookie Marcus Jones already took away his return duties. Perhaps the Patriots should consider letting him take the defensive snaps as well.
On a Patriots defense that doesn’t have a lot of weaknesses, Bryant has clearly been the weak link in the backfield.
Loser: Pierre Strong Jr.
AP Photo/Ashley Landis
One of the most mind-numbing penalties was rookie running back Pierre Strong Jr. committing the running into the kicker penalty that kept the game-winning touchdown drive alive for the Vikings. It was one of those bad situational mistakes that really cost the Patriots on the road.
It’s unfortunate for Strong, who may not see the field again for the rest of the season. Coach Bill Belichick has benched players for far less, and this could be an ultimate teaching moment for the young running back/special-teamer.
Strong clearly wasn’t the only player on the field that made a mistake on a night when the Patriots were riding the struggle-bus. So there’s still hope he can bounce back from this game and come back stronger.
Loser: Kyle Dugger
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Kyle Dugger ran into a huge problem against Vikings tight end T.J. Hockenson on Thursday night. The Patriots’ third-year safety has the ability to enter the elite category at his position, but he’s going to have to find a way to shine in moments like he had in the primetime game against the Vikings.
It’s completely fair to say that Hockenson cooked him when the two were matched up against one another. Granted, there was nothing easy about the matchup with Hockenson hauling in some well-placed throws from Cousins. There’s no shame in just getting beat, and that was the case for Dugger in this game.
Loser: Defensive front
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The Patriots know a thing or two about having a banged-up offensive line. So they’d understand more than anyone the lopsided advantage they had when facing a Vikings offensive front without left tackle Christian Darrisaw in this game.
And yet, they still only got to Cousins for one sack.
That isn’t going to cut it against a Vikings team loaded with offensive weapons. It’s asking a lot for a defensive backfield to hold up against the likes of Justin Jefferson, Adam Thielen, K.J. Osborn and T.J. Hockenson. The Dallas Cowboys found success by getting after Cousins consistently and disrupting the offensive rhythm.
New England had the recipe to create a similar disaster for the Vikings, but they failed to execute when it mattered the most.
Winner: Raekwon McMillan
AP Photo/Phil Pavely
For all of the talk about the Patriots needing speed at linebacker, Raekwon McMillan delivered emphatically by blowing up Vikings star running back Dalvin Cook on a couple of plays.
He tackled the three-time Pro Bowler for a loss in the offensive backfield in a one-on-one situation early in the game, before snuffing out a screen pass in the fourth quarter. The speed, hustle and pure instincts McMillan showed was impressive
New England will obviously need more of that effort if they have any hope of bouncing back from Thursday’s disappointing loss.