1. Billy the coaching G.O.A.T. was off his game
It feels odd saying this since yours truly has 347 fewer NFL wins than Bill Belichick, but the coaching G.O.A.T. was off his game big-time as his Patriots fell to the Vikings 33-26 at U.S. Bank on Thanksgiving night. The Vikings have been getting gashed by the run for the past three weeks, but the Patriots tried only 13 runs for 45 yards. Rhamondre Stevenson had only six carries for 36 yards, a 5.1 average with a long of 14. Yet Belichick and his staff kept ignoring the run. A late three-and-out included three passes that led to a 29-yard punt and the Vikings' go-ahead score. The Patriots also ran into the punter, turning a Vikings' three-and-out into a touchdown drive. Belichick also had no answer for Justin Jefferson while dropping a winnable road game against a rookie head coach – Kevin O'Connell – who used to be Belichick's third-string quarterback.
2. First-drive magic keeps growing
Sorry for the jinx, Vikings fans. But here goes. Your 9-2 squad has not had a single penalty on 84 first-possession plays this season. Of their 11 drives, seven have produced touchdowns of at least nine plays and 74 yards. Thursday's touchdown drive went 80 yards in eight plays and was helped by a 15-yard penalty on the Patriots. New England came into the game having allowed only six points on two field goals in 10 opening drives this season. O'Connell called three Dalvin Cook runs that went for 12 yards. He also called five pass plays, all of which were completed, including a trick play that saw Jefferson complete a pass to Adam Thielen. "I think the key is [O'Connell] knows what plays we really like," right tackle Brian O'Neill said. "And he knows how to sequence them. We have a lot of confidence going."
3. Za'Darius quiet, but don't overlook red-zone TFL
New England edge rusher Matthew Judon, the NFL's sack leader with 13, looked disinterested for most of the game. He primarily rushed across from O'Neill, one of the better right tackles in the game, rather than over backup left tackle Blake Brandel. He was credited with three tackles and two QB hits. Za'Darius Smith, the NFL's fourth-leading sack man, also had a quiet game, but did make one impact play that probably will go overlooked as fans celebrate an eighth one-score victory. The Patriots had second-and-7 at the Vikings' 14 in a 7-7 game when Smith played his keys perfectly and dropped Kendrick Bourne for a 7-yard loss. The Patriots had to settle for a field goal one play later. Danielle Hunter benefited from some of the blocking schemes. He had one of the Vikings' three sacks.
4. The running game was atrocious, but helped Kirk
A tip of the cap goes to O'Connell for sticking with a running game that went from average to abysmal. The young coach knew he should have run the ball more in Sunday's 40-3 beatdown loss to the Cowboys. Had he done that, Kirk Cousins wouldn't have been sacked a career-high seven times. Well, Cousins was sacked only once Thursday in part because the Patriots still had to play the run. The highlight of Cook's day was three 4-yard runs on the opening drive. He finished with 42 yards on 22 carries for a 1.9-yard average. The longest run of the day was an 8-yarder by Alexander Mattison for one of only two rushing first downs. Overall, the Vikings rushed for 57 yards and a 2.1 average. But the 27 attempts, spread throughout the game, were necessary to keep the heat off Cousins, who completed 30 of 37 passes.
5. Rookie has key block on Nwangwu's touchdown
The biggest smile in the winning locker room might have belonged to William Kwenkeu. Who? William Kwenkeu, a 6-1, 235-pound undrafted rookie from Temple. "This feels amazing to be in this locker room with these guys celebrating a win," said the Cameroon-born Kwenkeu, who was elevated from the practice squad before the game and made his NFL debut on special teams. If you go back and look at Kene Nwangwu's 97-yard kick return for a touchdown, look for the key blocks early in the return. C.J. Ham had the first one. Then a guy wearing No. 47 – Kwenkeu – did his thing to help seal the inside and give Nwangwu a clear path down the left sideline. "I'm just working a double team with [Brian] Asamoah," Kwenkeu said. "Just stay on the block as long as you can." The smile grew. "Man, Thursday Night Football, Thanksgiving," he said. "I have a lot to be thankful for."