MINNEAPOLIS — Tom Brady and the New England Patriots took advantage of Adrian Peterson’s absence. Matt Cassel’s four interceptions, too.
Chandler Jones returned a field goal he blocked for a touchdown right before halftime, and Brady and the Patriots cruised from there for a 30-7 victory over the Minnesota Vikings on Sept. 14 to give coach Bill Belichick his 200th career win.
Brady went 15-for-22 for 149 yards, one touchdown and no turnovers, and Cassel’s first start against his close friend and former mentor was a dud.
Devin McCourty, Darrelle Revis, Logan Ryan and Dominique Easley all picked him off, setting up 17 points for the Patriots and prompting “Teddy! Teddy! Teddy!” chants from the crowd for rookie backup Teddy Bridgewater. Cassel finished 19-for-36 for 202 yards.
Matt Asiata caught an early touchdown pass from Cassel but had only 36 yards on 13 carries in place of Peterson, who was shelved for the game after a charge of child abuse was levied against him in Texas. His status for the rest of the season is unclear.
The pass-run ratio last week for the Patriots was 60-20 in a shaky loss at Miami, but they established a much better balance here.
Stevan Ridley carried 25 times for 101 yards, and Brady found a vulnerable target in Vikings second-year cornerback Xavier Rhodes, who was listed as questionable for the game because of a groin injury. He wasn’t able to keep up with Edelman, most glaringly on the possession right after the interception by Revis.
Julian Edelman, who also had a 34-yard punt return, had two first-down catches plus the wide-open grab in the corner of the end zone for a 17-7 lead. Edelman finished with six catches for 81 yards.
One of the many hallmarks of success under Belichick, who became the sixth coach to reach 200 NFL victories, has been an ability to avoid consecutive losses.
Over the last four years they’ve had only two losing streaks, of just two games apiece. The last time the Patriots lost the first two games of the season was 2001, when they went on to win their first of three Super Bowl titles.
This was also Brady’s 149th win as a starter, pushing him past John Elway into third place on the all-time list.
The Vikings sure started strong, finishing off a smooth opening drive with a 25-yard touchdown pass to a wide-open Asiata after moving 80 yards in seven plays solely with Asiata and the tight ends.
They forced a three-and-out, too, but the Patriots just needed one bad throw by Brady’s former backup to shift the momentum.
Cassel’s heave to Jarius Wright hung in the air long enough for McCourty to snag it and bring the ball to the 1 after a 60-yard return. Ridley scored two plays later.
Revis had Greg Jennings smothered for much of the game, and the five-time Pro Bowl pick grabbed an errant pass by Cassel early in the second quarter to set up the first of three field goals by Stephen Gostkowski.
Then, after the Vikings got in position for a 48-yard kick by Blair Walsh that would’ve pulled them within seven points at the intermission, Jones powered through the line, stretched his arms out and batted down the ball. He picked it up in stride and headed for the end zone, effectively quashing the hope for a second-half comeback.
The Dolphins rushed for 191 yards against the Patriots. But without Peterson, the Vikings finished with just 54 yards on 19 attempts.
They were also the only team in the league last week to not allow a touchdown, but the defense regressed against Brady and the Patriots.
He struggled badly against Cincinnati last season when Vikings coach Mike Zimmer was defensive coordinator for the Bengals, but Belichick and Brady had the decisive edge on this sun-splashed afternoon.
(DAVE CAMPBELL, AP Pro Football Writer)