So the Patriots have the best record in the NFL. Who would have thought that was even possible with a team that owns the 29th ranked defense in the league? But that's what happened Sunday night when New England downed the Vikings 28-18 and the Pittsburgh Steelers fell to the Saints in the Superdome on Halloween night.
The New England Patriots improved to 6-1 after defeating the Minnesota Vikings 28-18 at Gillette Stadium Sunday. The Vikings put a scare into New England's defense early, but couldn't capitalize on prime field position near the goal line to break a 7-7 tie just before the half.
On an afternoon where Brett Favre was booed, Randy Moss was cheered and Wes Welker managed to fire up the crowd, the Patriots used a combination of Vikings turnovers and their own methodical ground game to pound out a victory.
After gaining just 4 yards on four carries in the first half, Patriots RB BenJarvus Green-Ellis drained the life out of any hope the Vikings had to tie the game when he carried the ball 7 times for 52 yards on a 13-play 80 scoring drive to put New England up by 10 with under two minutes to go. Green-Ellis' 2-yard TD plunge over Dan Connolly at the goal was reviewed and upheld to give New England the double digit lead.
Green-Ellis knew the Patriots had to keep the ball out of Minnesota's hands when the Vikings closed to within 3 points in the fourth quarter.
"What happens is, you want to get a couple first downs to keep the clock moving," said Green-Ellis. "You don't want to let an offense like Minnesota get the ball back and we kept the ball away from them, so that was positive."
The Patriots leaned on their offensive line to pound the ball against the Vikings 11-ranked run defense. New England TE Alge Crumpler threw key blocks to spring Green-Ellis twice on that final drive.
"I think our linemen played great today and Alge is a great blocker. Not only Alge, but also Rob Gronkowski too, they are all great blockers," Green-Ellis noted.
Patriots QB Tom Brady concurred.
"Benny [Green-Ellis] had a huge game and made some big runs," said Brady. "I think Alge is a friggin' great blocker. He's a dominating blocker in there."
New England needed to convert two crucial third downs on the Drive; a third and 5 at their own 39 and then a third and 12 at their own 44. Brady relied on the two smallest Patriots on the field to get the job done.
"Those were big," Brady admitted. "Getting the ball to Wes is important. He always comes up with the plays. On the one to Woody, they were blitzing and he came out of there and saw him kind of flash open. He made a great catch and broke a great tackle to get the yards we needed for the first down."
Brady admitted the Patriots offense hadn't always been able to move the ball that well previously.
"An 80-yard drive there in a critical situation, that's something that we've been missing a little bit this year," he said. "It's good to come out of it knowing we can convert on those plays."
"We had some big drives there, Belichick said of the Patriots offense. "At the end of the game when they came back to make it 21-18, we went the length of the field again to get points on the board and use up a lot of clock."
Before the Vikings were able to close the Patriots 21-10 lead, QB Brett Favre – who entered the game nursing a sore elbow and stress fractures in his ankle – was sent to the locker room for treatment after getting leveled by Patriots defensive lineman Myron Pryor. Pryor's helmet hit Favre in the chest, and then smashed into his chin. The 41-year old veteran was carted off the field as he was attended to by the Vikings medical staff.
Tavaris Jackson took over for Favre at the New England 1 yard line. He used one play to score, a toss to a wide open Naufahu Tahi. He followed that with another well-thrown pass to Percy Harvin in the corner for the 2-point conversion to close the lead to three points, 21-18. It was the last time the Vikings were close.
New England finished with 362 yards of offense. Brady completed 16 of 27 passes for 240 yards and a touchdown. After the game, Brady talked about what it means to improve to a 6-1 record, atop the AFC East.
"It feels great. We won. It was a tough battle out there," the former Super Bowl MVP said. "They've got a damn good team and we just kept fighting. I think you leave a game like this [against] a team that has as many talented players as they have...it was a battle. I hope [Brett] Favre is ok."
New England faces the Browns next week in Cleveland. Eric Mangini's club is 2-5 and coming off their bye week.