Taking a closer look at the television copy of Sunday’s game against the Vikings and focusing on the fourth quarter:
1. In addition to giving the Patriots trouble earlier in the game with his pass rush, Vikings LE Ray Edwards also had an effect in the running game, especially on a Danny Woodhead run early in the fourth quarter. On the play, Edwards was doubled at the snap by RG Stephen Neal and RT Sebastian Vollmer, but still managed to split the block and force Neal into the backfield. Woodhead, with a free linebacker closing the hole to his left, ran into Neal and tripped over Neal’s legs. He was unable to regain his balance and the play was marked as a 3-yard loss.
2. Vikings WR Percy Harvin continued to find holes in the Patriots’ zone defense, into the fourth quarter, as the Patriots safeties stayed as deep as they had been in the game. On a 30-yard completion from QB Brett Favre to Harvin to open the Vikings’ first drive of the fourth quarter, CB Devin McCourty, in a short zone, released Harvin out of the slot to the middle of the field. LB Gary Guyton turned around and chased Harvin in coverage from the 25-yard line to the 50-yard line, where Harvin caught Favre’s pass. It was only at midfield when the safeties – Brandon Meriweather and James Sanders -- were in the area to make the stop on Harvin.
3. Undrafted Patriots LB Dane Fletcher did an excellent job of disguising his second-and-3 blitz on the Vikings’ fourth-quarter scoring drive. An inside double-team allowed Fletcher to blitz the right guard/tackle gap and as Favre found his receivers to the left uncovered, Fletcher was quickly able to get to Favre as he turned to his right. Fletcher’s pressure forced Favre into an intentional grounding penalty and the Vikings into a third-and-13 situation. On the next play, Fletcher again blitzed, got around a block attempt from a running back, and forced Favre to throw off his back foot. However, a defensive pass interference penalty on Meriweather gave the Vikings a fresh set of downs in the red zone.
4. Vikings QB Tarvaris Jackson’s 1-yard touchdown pass to FB Naufahu Tahi was a well-designed goal-line play that took advantage of the Patriots’ run-first defensive mentality in the situation. On the play-action, the Vikings lined up two tight ends standing in the right slot, who both essentially set picks on the two defenders in coverage, as well as ILB Brandon Spikes. The traffic left Spikes unable to get to the outside, where OLB Rob Ninkovich had both Tahi and RB Adrian Peterson to defend in open space. Ninkovich first hit Tahi before engaging Peterson, and then as Jackson rolled out, Ninkovich tried to hit Jackson before he could get the throw off. He was unsuccessful, and Tahi was open in the end zone for the touchdown.
5. The clinching play of the game for the Patriots, a 26-yard run by RB BenJarvus Green-Ellis late in the fourth, very nearly was stopped for a loss in the backfield. On the play, LG Dan Connolly got as much as he could handle from DT Kevin Williams, with Williams shedding the block as Green-Ellis broke to the outside. However, OLB Chad Greenway had been sucked inside by the initial direction of the run, leaving the corner open for Green-Ellis to turn at full speed. It may have been this burst of speed that kept Williams from getting a hold of Green-Ellis before his 26-yard gain.