Patriots at Vikings thumbs up, thumbs down: Mac Jones breaks out even in loss

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Despite the short week to prepare for Thanksgiving football, the Patriots and Vikings were ready to make plenty of plays Thursday night in Minnesota, a back-and-forth affair that ended with the 33-26 Vikings win.

Mac Jones and the Patriots offense moved the ball well early, scoring on six of their first seven possessions, though they did have to settle for four Nick Folk field goals.

Defensively the Patriots struggled to keep up with Justin Jefferson and the Kirk Cousins-led passing attack. The loss drops New England to 6-5 on the season, snapping a three-game winning streak.

Before turning the page to next Thursday night’s battle with the Bills at Gillette Stadium, here are the highs and lows from the holiday road defeat.

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Thumbs up

Mac Jones – New England’s quarterback drove right down the field to a touchdown on the visitor’s first possession of the night. Jones got good pass protection and responded with a couple nice early throws for 26 yards to Jakobi Meyers and then a 34-yard score to Nelson Agholor. Jones completed 12 of 15 passes for 148 yards by halftime. Jones’ first drive of the second half was another sharp one, concluding with a 37-yard catch-and-run TD to Hunter Henry. Jones finished completing 28 of 39 passes for 382 yards with two touchdowns and no interceptions for a 119.8 passer rating, though it came in a losing effort.

Marcus Jones – Four days after saving the Patriots’ season with his punt return TD against the Jets, Jones flipped the script with a nice tackle on the opening kickoff in Minnesota. Then in the second quarter he got back to his usual style of playmaking with a 46-yard kickoff return to set up a short field drive to a field goal.

Jonathan Jones – Once seen as “just” a slot corner, the veteran continues to prove himself a productive force on the outside in 2022. On Minnesota’s second drive of the game Jones undercut an out to Justin Jefferson for a near interception. On the next series he hauled in a Kirk Cousins' overthrow in the middle of the field and returned it 55 yards to the Vikings’ 17, leading to a short Nick Folk field goal and first quarter lead. Jones did get nabbed twice for face mask penalties, but also added another near interception in the fourth quarter as the best Patriots defensive back on the night.

Nick Folk – New England’s aged kicker lives Belichick’s Do Your Job motto. Folk hit on field goals from 34, 46 and 23 yards in the first half to help the Patriots get to halftime with the game tied at 16. He kept chipping into the road effort with a 25-yard boot in the third quarter.

Pass protection – Despite being without a pair of starters with David Andrews and Isaiah Wynn out with injuries, New England’s offensive line may have put up its best performance of the season. James Ferentz filled in at center. Yodny Cajuste was back to work at right tackle. Trent Brown returned to the starting lineup at left tackle after his one-week benching. It all came together to give Mac Jones the time he needed to make plenty of plays through the air, even if much of the passing game was of the quicker variety. It was a good night for the line and by extension Jones, who was not hit until the fourth quarter.

Thumbs down

Kyle Dugger – New England’s third-year safety has been up and down in coverage at times this season and he struggled early against Minnesota’s T.J. Hockenson. The former first-round pick beat Dugger for a third-down completion on the sideline and then fell down while allowing Hockenson to score a 1-yard touchdown on third down in the second quarter. Bill Belichick seemed particularly upset on the Patriots’ sideline after the Hockenson score.

Pass defense – Dugger was far from the only member of the back end that had issues in coverage. Justin Jefferson was wide open throughout the first half, catching six balls for 94 yards before the break. Jefferson continued to either make plays or draw coverage allowing others to make plays in the second half. Cousins put up 299 yards through the air, including touchdowns to his star targets Jefferson, Adam Thielen and Hockenson. It was a tough night for the pass defense that's been handling much lesser quarterback's and skill players over the last month-plus. New England also didn't get much help from the pass rush, despite the fact that the Vikings were without their starting left tackle.

Special teams – New England’s third phase cost the team the game. After keeping Kene Nwangwu bottled up early, a few missed tackles and losing contain on the outside (Dugger may have been held) allowed the kickoff returner to go 97 yards down the left sideline for the third quarter touchdown that gave the home team momentum as it tied the game at 23. Rookie Pierre Strong Jr. had a costly penalty when he ran into the punter in the fourth quarter to give the Vikings a first down. Minnesota took advantage of the second-chance at offense and drove to a go-ahead touchdown pass to Adam Thielen. And newcomer Michael Palardy struggled in his second game as a Patriot, including a 31-yard punt in the fourth quarter. Other than Jones and Folk, it was a pretty tough night for Cam Achord’s special teams units.

Red zone offense – New England’s 31st-ranked red zone offense faced the NFL’s worst red zone defense and still struggled to put the ball in the end zone. The Patriots got inside the Vikings’ 20 three times and had to settle for three field goals. The red zone remains a problem for Jones and the Patriots’ offense, even on a night when it showed much improvement in other areas.

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