At home, and late in season, Tom Brady mystique is real
Standing at his locker on Wednesday, Dalvin Cook dutifully parried the idea that the Vikings, heading into Gillette Stadium this weekend, have any reason to be in awe of the Patriots.
Were not going to get caught up in the Patriots mystique, Cook said. Were going to get caught up in us playing good football, and thats what weve got to focus on. Everybody can go into the whole thing of, New England this. We respect Tom [Brady], we respect the Patriots, we respect everything theyve got going. Its more about us at this point, about how were playing football and just the little things were doing. Weve got to go in and focus on those.
The sentiment reflected the Vikings focus at the beginning of a week where theyll try to become the first visiting team to win in New England since the Panthers did it in Week 4 last season. On Oct. 1, 2017 the same day Cook tore his ACL against the Lions Carolina posted 444 yards of total offense, withstanding a 14-point fourth-quarter comeback from the Patriots and winning on a Graham Gano field goal as time expired.
Since then, the Patriots have won 12 in a row at home, including two playoff games last season. In his career, Brady is 124-20 at Gillette Stadium. He is 32-4 at home in December, dating back to his first year as a starter when the Patriots were still playing at Foxboro Stadium. His .889 winning percentage at home in the regular seasons final month is the fourth-best in NFL history among quarterbacks, behind only Aaron Rodgers, Trent Green and Daryle Lamonica.
In other words, the mystique is there for good reason.
I dont even know where to begin with what you can learn from him, quarterback Kirk Cousins said. He won his first Super Bowl when I was in seventh grade. This game matters to him, so much, and you see it in the way he conducts his business. [Hes] very comfortable in the pocket; he does a great job of feeling the rush, and not seeing the rush. In that way, hes very mobile. Hes always been great in crunch time, and hes a winner. I think hes really set the bar for all of us who came after him, and really, everybody who came before him, as well.
If the 41-year-old Brady has shown one weakness this season, its been in the fact hes throwing interceptions more frequently (on 1.7 percent of his passes) than he has since 2013. Hes got only a 77.1 passer rating when hes under pressure, and teams havent necessarily had to blitz Brady to affect him; theyve only sent extra pressure after him on 64 of his 422 dropbacks, according to Pro Football Focus.
Patriots coach Bill Belichick said on Tuesday his staff often looks to the Vikings defense as a source of ideas, and the Vikings have augmented their pressure package with some new looks this season, including overload blitzes and the approach they showed Rodgers on Sunday night, when safety Harrison Smith lined up between linebackers Eric Kendricks and Anthony Barr in a triple-A gap blitz.
The Vikings, though, typically dont throw a heavy volume of blitzes at quarterbacks of Bradys pedigree; they blitzed Rodgers and Drew Brees just three times each in their games against both quarterbacks at U.S. Bank Stadium, and blitzed Brees on only 22 of 80 dropbacks in two games against him last year. If theyre able to find as much success pressuring Brady with a standard rush as they had against Rodgers and Matthew Stafford in recent games, they could help themselves in a hostile environment on Sunday.
I hope it helps. They do a good job of getting in no backs and spreading the ball around, getting the ball out quick, coach Mike Zimmer said. Protection-wise they change up on you quite a bit so they can get extra hands on your pass rushers. The play action, quite honestly, helps them quite a bit because they sell the run so well with it. If it was just a straight passing game every snap, I think wed have a good opportunity.
As efficient as the Patriots are, and as much success as theyve had at home, the Vikings know they likely wont be able to head into Foxborough expecting many handouts from the two-time defending AFC champions.
Such a formidable challenge, though, also presents them with a unique opportunity.
Its going to be fun playing there again, said defensive end Everson Griffen, the only player on the Vikings current roster who was on the gameday roster for Minnesotas last trip there in 2010. I havent played there in eight years, and its going to be an exciting time to play there again.