On Sunday, the Halloween spirit was in full effect at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, Massachusetts. It only seemed fitting as the Patriots were set to play the Minnesota Vikings, a team with their own set of tricks that could be key in helping them win on the road.
Other then veteran quarterback Brett Favre being listed as the stater after having two injuries to his left ankle and spending the entirety of the week in a boot, there were other story lines that surrounded this game.
Wide receiver Randy Moss was making his first return to the Gillette Stadium after being traded to the Vikings just a few weeks ago.
The treat for the Patriots was the hard-fought victory at the end of the evening. With this victory, the Patriots are now 6-1 and boast the league’s best record. The Vikings on the other hand left Foxborough with a 5-2 record and an even more injured starting quarterback.
Bill Belichick credits the Patriots overall competitiveness for the recent close wins, “It’s not always great; it’s not always perfect, but there’s a lot of effort there. There’s good competitive toughness.”
BenJarvus Green-Ellis on the Run
With veteran running back Fred Taylor still out with a toe injury, it seemed that it was the beginning of the end for the Patriots continuously struggling running game. That was the case until Danny Woodhead arrived and BenJarvus Green-Ellis made an undeniable play for the top back position.
When Vikings running back Adrian Peterson enters a game, his numbers often eclipse the running attempts of any other team. Peterson has been on double duty for the Vikings playing as the top rusher and a dependable target for Brett Favre.
But where was Adrian Peterson on Sunday?
Peterson carried the ball 25 times for 92 yards and averaging only 3.7 yards per carry. Although it was Peterson’s sole rushing touchdown in the first quarter that initially put the Vikings on the board, his contributions were limited.
It was the contributions of the Patriots running backs that was truly key in the win. BenJarvus Green-Ellis was given the opportunity to step up as the lead back for the Patriots and he’s done everything right to keep the job. In Sunday’s match up, Green-Ellis charged through the Vikings defense with 17 carries for 112 yards and two rushing touchdowns.
Green-Ellis credited his teammates for the blocking that allowed to make the plays when the team needed them the most.
“Alge is a great blocker. Not only Alge, but also Rob Gronkowski too, they are all great blockers..” When veteran tight end Alge Crumpler was brought in to join the Patriots, it was his strong blocking abilities that was predicted to be the greatest benefit for the offense. Danny Woodhead had six carries for 13 yards and managed his own rushing touchdown and also recorded a tackle on special teams.
The effectiveness of the running attack has taken many by surprise as Green-Ellis won’t often make stellar plays that would earn him a spot on any top plays lists but his production heavily depends on the short yardage gains. Like the Patriots passing game, it is the short yard gains that builds the momentum for Tom Brady.
New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady, right, follows through on a pass as Minnesota Vikings
defensive end Brian Robison rushes in Foxborough, Mass., Sunday, Oct. 31, 2010. (AP Photo/Michael Dwyer)
Variety is Key
“We're winning close games. We're winning tough games and I think that's what it takes.” Tom Brady stated when asked about the team’s mental toughness. Considering that the Patriots have won the last three games by just a combined 16 points, it’s proof that these wins have not been the easiest.
As mentioned, the absence of the Randy Moss on the offensive front was seen to be a point of weakness for the Patriots open field front. Unexpectedly, not a single player has been dubbed the “Randy Moss replacement.” Instead, it has been a combination of players and schemes that has helped the team become the team with best record in the NFL.
Second year receiver Brandon Tate has shown his vast skill set so far this season. With two returns for a touchdown, it seemed that Tate has found his niche on special teams.
But it was 65 yard reception from Tom Brady that showed just how multi-dimensional Tate can be. The 65 yard pass marked the longest completion by Tom Brady and Tate. It was also Brandon Tate’s first career receiving touchdown.
Showing some ability in the open field, Tate is another viable option as a top receiver. The previous top receiver for the Patriots though, was not nearly as effective in his homecoming.
Randy Moss had a single catch for eight yards. That’s all.
Still, it was Moss’s post game comments that brought fourth some of the former player’s thoughts and opinions on the Patriots team and organization.
“It was hard for me to come here and play. It has been an up-and-down roller-coaster emotionally all week. Then to be able to come in here and see those guys and running plays that I know what they're doing.”
Moss continued to express how it felt to not be a Patriots anymore. “The success they had on the field - the running game - so I kind of know what type of feeling they have in their locker room and I just want to be able to tell the guys that I miss the hell out of them, every last helmet in that locker room”
The Patriots are now 6-1 and hold the best record among 32 teams. A glimpse at their statistics, it would not tell the story of a dominating team. The Patriots have manged to defeat top offenses with a young and determined defense and the careful offense of Bill Belichick.
This week, the Patriots face the Cleveland Browns on the road. The Browns are currently 2-5 but are also just coming off of a much needed bye week. Rookie quarterback Colt McCoy has been the starter since both Senaca Wallace and Jake Delhomme were left with ankle injuries. In the first two games, McCoy was 32 for 49 passes for 355 yards and one touchdown. McCoy has also been intercepted twice and sacked six total times. The Browns aren’t ranked in the top 10 of anything in regards to offense and defense but has managed to beat the New Orleans Saints and the Cincinnati Bengals, both of which have significant offensive weapons.
The return of Browns’ wide receiver Josh Cribbs is also major factor that could help the Browns improve to 3-5. The top receiver suffered a concussion after a helmet to helmet hit against the Steelers. If the Patriots can maintain the balance of a running and passing attack and if the defense can continue to stop on key downs, than the Patriots should be able to ease into 7-1.
The Patriots will face the Cleveland Browns at the Cleveland Browns Stadium in Cleveland, Ohio on Sunday, November 7, 2010. Kickoff is set for 1:00 p.m.
Kisha Tapangan is a contributing writer for PatriotsInsider.com She also maintains her personal blog Necessary Roughness and can be found on Twitter @KishaT. Be sure to check back for regular updates by Kisha