Well, that was ugly. Let’s get right to it with some immediate post-game thoughts:
1) The big story for the past 48 hours, without a doubt, has been the saga of Adrian Peterson. The bulk of the discussion has been on off-field matters relating to his indictment, and rightfully so. We had a chance to speak with a handful of Vikings fans at TCF Bank Stadium before Sunday’s game, and we were interested to hear their thoughtful responses when it comes to Peterson. Two fans wearing AP jerseys said they hesitated before putting their jerseys on for the game, but both essentially said they want to see how the process plays out before passing further judgment. Another fan, though, was wearing a Cordarrelle Patterson jersey that he bought Friday to replace his Peterson jersey. The fan, who has three young daughters, said he can’t support Peterson any more even if he will continue to watch the Vikings.
At noon, the focus turned to on-field matters, and the big question was how the Vikings would function offensively without a player who, even when he isn’t dominant (which he was not last week), gives opposing defenses plenty to think about. Matt Asiata does not similarly strike fear into opponents. We’re not sure how much of Sunday’s offensive struggle was due to Peterson’s absence, since Matt Cassel made some awful throws and the offensive line struggled all day, but a New England defense that looked ordinary at best last week looked quite good this week.
2) The biggest play of the game was probably Cassel’s first INT, an underthrown deep ball the Patriots returned to the Vikings’ 1 and cashed in for a score that tied the game 7-7 after an impressive first Minnesota drive. But the second-biggest play was the blocked field goal at the end of the first half; if Blair Walsh knocks it through, it’s 17-10 New England at the break, and the game is theoretically still up for grabs. Instead, of course, it was blocked and returned for a TD that made it 24-7. That play, combined with a big punt return by Julian Edelman, made us think about a story line that hasn’t popped up much but is still relevant: the absence of special teams coach Mike Priefer, who is serving his suspension after the Chris Kluwe investigation. Regardless of what you think of Priefer personally and whether he should still have a job, he has been a very good special teams coach during his tenure here. Joe Marciano was hired as an interim special teams coach, but it’s certainly possible that the Vikings missed Priefer on Sunday. He can return as early as this coming week if his suspension is reduced from three games to two.
3) We wrote on Wednesday that this game against New England would be the defining game of the Vikings’ season. Sure, it’s weird to think of Game 2 of 16 having that kind of weight, but we really felt it was going to be a test of where Minnesota really is. A win against New England meant the Vikings were suddenly 2-0 against what many thought was a tough early schedule. A loss meant a reality check.
Well, we certainly got the reality check. The Vikings have questions all over the field — still in the secondary, still on the offensive line and certainly at QB after Cassel’s performance. If coaches were geniuses a week ago, we can tap the brakes on that talk. Having Peterson removed from the game plan abruptly certainly didn’t help, but this loss was far more wide-reaching than just one player.
Much like the sobering loss to the Patriots in 2006 in Brad Childress’ first season — the Vikings entered that game 4-2 — this one is a reminder of just how far Minnesota has to go to be a consistently competitive team.
It was billed as a battle between Jerry Kill and Gary Patterson, two old friends. But the Horned Frogs were anything but hospitable. The Gophers saw their 10-game non-conference winning streak come to an end.