One of the big story lines from the Patriots’ win over the Vikings Sunday was the defense, and its ability to hold a talented Minnesota squad to 10 points.
They held wide receiver Adam Thielen, who had amassed 1,138 yards on 93 receptions through the first 11 games, to just five receptions for 28 yards. It was an impressive overall performance for a group that has struggled at times this season.
“I think it just has to come down to consistency, effort, and being ready to play,’’ said safety Duron Harmon after Sunday’s win. “When we come ready to play, I feel like we have a really good defense. We got good players all the way across the board. That’s what we have to continue to model our games after, games like this.
“When we come out ready to play, when we feel challenged, we just got to come out each and every week like this. Knowing the guys that we have in this group I know that we’re going to be ready for the rest of the year.’’
That would seem to follow a pattern for Patriots’ defenses, which typically allow fewer points per game as the season goes on. Going back to the 2014 season, when the Patriots went on to capture Super Bowl XLIX, the defense has allowed fewer points in November and December in all but one season, 2015. That season saw a slight increase, from 19 points per game through the October, to 20.2 in the final two months of the regular season. Injuries ravaged the Patriots in the second half of that season, with linebackers Jamie Collins and Dont’a Hightower missing significant portions of the final eight weeks.
In the Super Bowl-winning seasons of 2014 and 2016, they saw their points per game allowed decrease by 6.1 and 7.8, respectively. In the last four games for the Patriots this season, they are allowing 3.6 fewer points, even with the 34-point stink bomb they dropped against the Tennessee Titans on Nov. 11.
The Patriots would like to see that trend continure over the final four weeks of the season.
“We have to keep on working. We’re not where we want to be, but we’ll just always continue to climb, continue to grind, and get better each and every week,’’ said defensive lineman Trey Flowers after Sunday’s win. “It’s not getting any easier, so we just have to stay on top of it and continue to climb. I think a lot of guys are coming together and just want to get better. We understand the urgency we have now. Now it’s time for real football and to be on our ‘A’ games.
“It’s just a lot of guys buying in and understanding that it’s not just one position here or just one thing you’re doing on this play. If they give us a different look, we can change it up. A lot of guys are just on top of the game plan and the playbook. When you have a lot of guys that are smart enough to learn different things, you can do things like that and be effective.’’