Breaking down the tape of the Vikings' loss to the Patriots
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Here's the tale of the tape from the Minnesota Vikings' 28-18 loss to the New England Patriots on Sunday, with grades on a scale of 0 to 5 in parentheses:
With a sore ankle, a fractured foot and almost no practice time, Brett Favre (63 snaps) turned in his most even performance until DL Myron Pryor knocked him out late. Favre completed a season-high 68.8% of his passes for 259 yards. His overall accuracy was solid short, intermediate and long. He moved well enough around the pocket to avoid getting sacked, and two intentional grounding penalties were the result of poor blitz pickups. Favre's only bad mistake was throwing behind WR Percy Harvin, who could have made a big play if the ball was on target. Instead, CB Devin McCourty raked it out for an interception that set up a Patriots touchdown. Backup Tarvaris Jackson (nine) came off the bench and completed two tough passes with a cold arm -- a rollout lob to FB Naufahu Tahi for a 1-yard touchdown and a fade to the corner for Harvin on a two-point conversion. Jackson's lack of work in the 2-minute offense was apparent on the final drive, but he also got to flash his speed on a 33-yard scramble. There's no way to project that appearance -- good or bad -- into what might happen in a full game.
Running backs (2)
HB Adrian Peterson (52 snaps) released through the zone for a 25-yard catch-and-run, but he never got out of the gate in a running game that relied heavily on inside zones and iso plays against New England's 3-4 front. His 3.7 average of 25 carries was OK, considering he never popped one longer than 9 yards. But Peterson appeared to make several incorrect reads -- none more costly than on fourth-and-goal, when he pressed a hole that wasn't there instead of bouncing through a crease outside. He also whiffed on a cut block that led to a helmet shot on Favre. A 1-yard touchdown leap was all Peterson on a play that otherwise was a mess. OLB Rob Ninkovich smacked HB Toby Gerhart (19) aside on his way to forcing the first of two grounding calls. The rookie needs to play stronger in protection. Running over S Brandon Meriweather to turn a dump-off pass into a 20-yard pickup showed what Gerhart can do with a head of steam. Tahi (23) did a good job selling his block on Ninkovich before releasing for the TD catch.
The Patriots' scheme to shut down and frustrate Randy Moss (65) couldn't have worked better. Meriweather played deep over the top on Moss' side all day, and he finished with just one catch for 8 yards -- on a backside option Favre decided to squeeze in out of a designed run play. One of few one-on-one situations yielded a pass-interference call on a hitch-and-go; Moss' failure to at least try for that ball didn't sit well. Ditto his effort on several run plays -- Peterson's 9-yarder might have gone for a lot more if Moss had bothered putting a hat on CB Kyle Arrington. Nevertheless, it's on coaches to scheme ways to get the ball to a player of that caliber, no matter how the defense is declaring its doubles to take him away. Moss' presence will be missed by Harvin (38), who played the last three quarters on a sprained ankle and added catches of 15, 19, 9, 10 and 30 yards -- plus the toe-tapping two-point conversion -- to his early 21-yarder. Could Harvin have prevented the interception? Maybe, but it's a bad throw and a heck of a play by McCourty. Every time Bernard Berrian (24) seems like he's getting back in the mix, he does things like dropping one slant and losing another as he hits the ground. Two catches (for 15 yards) were his most since Moss' arrival. Greg Lewis (21) got by Ninkovich and set up a manageable third down on his lone catch for 4 yards. Is there really no way to involve Greg Camarillo (19)?
Tight ends (2½)
Favre keeps looking for Visanthe Shiancoe (53 snaps), but the seam's not there of late. The one time it was, Shiancoe turned in when Favre thought he'd take the route upfield, and the pass fell incomplete. Shiancoe did catch an in for 17 yards, but penalties (illegal contact, false start) and miscues (turning inside instead of out on a third-down reception that came up short) once again marred his day. Jimmy Kleinsasser (28) was superb in the run game. The cut block by Jeff Dugan (16) that sent DL Brandon Deaderick flying was as good as it gets.
Offensive linemen (2½)
Favre wasn't sacked for the first time this season, but LG Steve Hutchinson will kick himself for letting Pryor beat him and bust up the old man's chin. Explosive ILB Brandon Spikes gave Hutchinson some trouble, too -- his quickness in the run game seems to be declining as well as his power. Then again, Spikes got the better of all the interior guys at one time or another. If RT Phil Loadholt hadn't gotten worked back by DL Ron Brace on fourth-and-goal, everything might have been different. Add that to another false start and two QB hits allowed, and this was a step back for Loadholt. LT Bryant McKinnie always can finish better in the run game, but his steadiness on Favre's blindside shouldn't be overlooked. There would be Pro Bowl talk if not for what happened last season. The communication issues really have disappeared since C John Sullivan got back in the lineup. DL Mike Wright sacked Jackson by working back RG Anthony Herrera, who probably should have come off a double team to prevent a QB hit by blitzing OLB Dane Fletcher on the previous possession. Ryan Cook was OK in two snaps of goal-line blocking.
Defensive linemen (1½)
RE Jared Allen (53 snaps) looked desperate as he flailed away all day against LT Matt Light. He managed one false pressure on a screen pass and had a chance to strip QB Tom Brady on an outside rush -- but that was it. Getting swallowed on RB BenJarvus Green-Ellis' 13-yard touchdown run and a 26-yarder late didn't help Allen's cause. Is his issue physical or mental? Probably both at this point. It's not effort. DC Leslie Frazier's increased mix of zone blitzes and 3-3 nickel looks couldn't prevent a third consecutive no-sack performance. He rushed an extra man on eight of 25 dropbacks (32%) and two got home. LE Ray Edwards (49) had three pressures but still hasn't been the same guy he was before the bye. UT Kevin Williams (53) got the most extra attention, hit Brady once and drove back RG Stephen Neal to drop RB Danny Woodhead for a 3-yard loss. He did have two of the line's five missed tackles. NT Pat Williams (31) is ending up on the ground a lot. There's plenty of room for rotation with DT Fred Evans (13), DT Letroy Guion (11) and DL Brian Robison (10), who played a bunch of nickel snaps inside and got one QB hit. Guion's quick first step yielded two more -- it might be time to find more work for him.
The Patriots ran the same counter play all day, with TE Alge Crumpler picking off linebackers on the backside. Their 5.4-yard average on 23 designed runs is a testament to how successfully they did it. MLB E.J. Henderson (55 snaps) was in position for a lot more plays than he made -- which sums up the Vikings' defense as a whole. He went low on the final TD, but Green-Ellis whirled into the end zone anyway. SLB Chad Greenway (55) shot a gap to stop Green-Ellis on the opening play for the first of his team-high 11 tackles. Not much gets by him in space. WLB Ben Leber (25 snaps) barely played until the fourth quarter because Frazier deployed his nickel package against the Patriots' extensively used two-tight sets. He got away with blatant pass interference against WR Wes Welker.
Defensive backs (1)
RCB Asher Allen's initial coverage wasn't bad on WR Brandon Tate's 65-yard touchdown, which finally came out of Brady's hand after 6.7 seconds. But that was only the low point of a miserable day for Allen, who also got beat by WR Deion Branch on a ball Brady overthrew and missed two key tackles -- on Green-Ellis' first TD run and Woodhead's third-and-12 conversion. The latter was a killer. So was the would-be interception that went through FS Madieu Williams' hands, allowing Tate to make a bobbling 32-yard grab that set up the Patriots' first touchdown. Williams has become the king of almost making plays. CB Antoine Winfield's diving ankle tackle bailed out Williams and saved a huge play on the first play of the final drive, but that only delayed the inevitable. SS Husain Abdullah was late to the party all day. CB Chris Cook (31 snaps) got the bulk of nickel work over Frank Walker (three) and blew a tackle on a bubble screen Branch took for 21.
P Chris Kluwe continues to be an unsung hero. He grossed 47.3, netted 41.3 and averaged 4.48 seconds of hang time on four punts, three of them setting up drives at the 10 and in. PK Ryan Longwell remained perfect on field goals with a 24-yarder, averaged 3.63 seconds of hang time on four kickoffs and didn't allow a return longer than 18 yards. SS Jamarca Sanford is really emerging alongside LB Heath Farwell as a bell cow on coverage units. Both had two tackles. Even on a bad wheel, Harvin inspires enough fear that Patriots PK Stephen Gostkowski booted one kickoff out of bounds and another so short Kleinsasser fair-caught it. He averaged 15.5 yards on two returns, and Camarillo returned one punt for 7.