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MINNEAPOLIS – Minnesota's first outdoor home opener in 33 years was staged on a spectacularly sunny afternoon. The crowd was fired up for a premier opponent, New England.
One problem: Adrian Peterson was missing. The Patriots took full advantage, harassing Matt Cassel with six sacks and four interceptions and breezing by the Vikings 30-7 on Sunday to give coach Bill Belichick his 200th career win.
"We all felt off. I think it was because 28 wasn't there," wide receiver Cordarrelle Patterson said, referring to Peterson's jersey number. But Patterson added this: "We have Adrian in our prayers and we miss him, but we're the Vikings. We have to worry about ourselves before we worry about one player."
Matt Asiata had a touchdown catch but only 36 rushing yards on 13 carries in place of Peterson, who was held out following a child abuse charge against him in Texas.
Devin McCourty, Darrelle Revis, Logan Ryan and Dominique Easley all picked off Cassel, setting up 17 points for the Patriots. Chandler Jones had two sacks and returned his blocked field goal for a touchdown.
Tom Brady found Julian Edelman six times for 81 yards and a score, Stevan Ridley ran 25 times for 101 yards and a touchdown and the Patriots improved to 35-4 in the regular season after losses since 2003.
"That is more like it, and that's what we expect," Ryan said.
Here are some key nuggets to know about the game:
BELICHICK MILESTONE: The victory moved Belichick into a tie for fifth place with Marty Schottenheimer on the NFL's all-time list, behind Don Shula, George Halas, Tom Landry and Curly Lambeau. That's quite the company.
"What it really means is that I've coached a lot of good football players," Belichick said, before letting down his guard and acknowledging the honor. "Really all of them, other than Curly Lambeau, I've looked up to as a kid and admired and maybe borderline worshipped. I certainly never got into coaching expecting that to ever happen."
For Brady, there was a remarkable feat, too: his 149th win as a starter, pushing him past John Elway into third place all time behind Brett Favre and Peyton Manning.
STILL THE STARTER: Despite this dud in his first start against close friend and former mentor Brady, Cassel will keep the job next week at New Orleans. Zimmer said he didn't consider bringing rookie Teddy Bridgewater in.
"I'm going to hold the quarterback position just like every position here to the same standard, and I also said I wasn't going to have a quick hook," Zimmer said. "Matt needs to play better. It's pretty obvious he needs to play better."
Cassel heard the crowd chanting for Bridgewater, sure, but as a 10th-year veteran he's been jeered worse than that.
"If you play this position for long enough, you've got to have tough skin," Cassel said. "That's how it goes. I know the fans were frustrated today, just like we were."
WIDESPREAD STRUGGLES: Cassel was far from the only Vikings player who'll be cringing when watching the film.
Kyle Rudolph had five catches for 53 yards, but the normally sure-handed tight end dropped a couple of balls. Greg Jennings, smothered all game by Revis, had one reception for 4 yards and two penalties for 15 yards. The offensive line leaked often, and left tackle Matt Kalil was pushed aside often by Jones, including on the blocked kick.
Cornerback Xavier Rhodes couldn't handle Edelman, who was almost solely responsible for the scoring drive following the interception by Revis in the second quarter. After totaling five sacks in the season-opening 34-6 win at St. Louis, the Vikings rarely pressured Brady on his 23 drop-backs. Tom Johnson had the only sack, in the fourth quarter.
BOUNCE BACK: After allowing 191 rushing yards in defeat last week, the Patriots were downright dominant on defense, allowing just 217 total yards.
Ryan filled in for cornerback Alfonzo Dennard and kept Patterson quiet. Dont'a Hightower had two sacks and eight tackles. With starting outside linebacker Jamie Collins also out with a thigh injury, Jones moved back and forth from defensive end to a stand-up linebacker spot and had three quarterback hurries and eight tackles.
Peterson or not, the Patriots were too proud to be defined by a bad game.
"Bill Belichick knows all of my strengths, and he knows all of my weaknesses," Jones said. "I feel like he would never put me in a position where I couldn't produce."
INTERDIVISION DOMINANCE: The Patriots have the best interconference record (39-9) since the NFL realigned in 2002, and their 12 straight victories over NFC North teams makes the longest active streak by any team against another division. They're 8-4 against the Vikings, with four wins in a row since their last loss in 2000.
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