Patriots 24, Vikings 17
FOXBORO, Mass. (AP)—The night before every game, New England linebackers coach Pepper Johnson meets with his players to go over the opponent’s roster, searching for potential turnovers.
Who makes them.
How they make them.
And how to force them.
New England made the most of those opportunities against Minnesota on Sunday, forcing fumbles on three consecutive possessions in the second quarter to jump to a 21-point lead and beat the Vikings 24-17.
“That’s a focus every week,” said linebacker Roman Phifer, who knocked the ball out twice. “It just so happened that it played into our hands and we were able to get a few.”
Tom Brady threw for 239 yards and touchdown passes on New England’s first three possessions, two of them to tight end Christian Fauria, to help the Patriots (6-5) stay a game behind Miami in the AFC East.
Duante Culpepper went 24-for-49 for 272 yards and two touchdowns and ran five times for 59 yards. But he also coughed the ball up at his own 26-yard line to set up the score that gave New England a 21-0 lead.
“They struggle when they make turnovers. Every team in the league does,” Patriots linebacker Tedy Bruschi said. “If you’ve got problems in the turnover area, that’s probably the worst problem to have.”
The Vikings (3-8) have the worst turnover differential, minus-19, and the most turnovers—16 fumbles and 16 interceptions—in the NFL. So it’s no secret why Minnesota has lost 16 road games in a row.
“The same reasons we lose at home we lose on the road,” Vikings receiver D’Wayne Bates said, “key turnovers, particularly turnovers that lead to touchdowns.”
Brady hit Fauria with 9- and 1-yard touchdowns to give the Patriots a 14-0 lead. On Minnesota’s first drive of the second quarter, Culpepper dropped the ball while scrambling and Victor Green recovered at the Vikings 29.
Brady took the Patriots to the 5 before he hit Troy Brown to make it 21-0.
The Vikings pushed the Patriots backward before they turned the ball over on downs. Minnesota, working from the no-huddle, got a 6-yard touchdown pass to Bates with 19 seconds left in the half to begin their comeback.
“The poor starts on the road are getting old,” Vikings coach Mike Tice said. “We put ourselves in a hole, and we use our energy just to get even.”
Because of a wind gusting at 20-35 mph, the Patriots tried for first downs twice on fourth down, failing both times. In the third quarter, the wind held a punt by Ken Walter to 24 yards, giving the Vikings the ball at the New England 45 with 10:31 left in the period.
Adam Vinatieri added a 34-yard field goal with 11:09 remaining to give New England a 24-17 lead. Anderson, who had a kick blocked in the first, missed a 41-yarder into the wind that would have cut the lead to 24-20 with 7:37 left.
The Vikings had a chance in the final minute, but the wind knocked down Culpepper’s long pass to Moss on third-and-10 from their 44 with 25 secondsleft. A short pass toward Jim Kleinsasser failed with 12 seconds to go.
Bennett’s streak of four games with at least 100 yards rushing was stopped. He gained 55 yards on 14 carries and left with a strained right calf in the third quarter. … Fauria has six touchdown catches this season. He had a total of seven in his other seven NFL seasons. … Moss had eight catches for 92 yards. … Antowain Smith led the Patriots with 58 yards on the ground, buthe has a total of just 148 in his last three games.