Not a single ball was thrown Josh Gordon’s way for the first 43 minutes of game action in Sunday’s game between the Patriots and Minnesota Vikings at Gillette Stadium.
As soon as the seemingly obvious adjustment to the play calling unleashed Gordon, Tom Brady took care of the rest. Brady dialed up Gordon for a 24-yard gain on the first play of a drive after the Vikings had tied the game with a field goal, and hit Gordon again three plays later for a 24-yard touchdown pass to give the Patriots the lead for good with 0:35 left in the third quarter.
With help from touchdown machine James Develin at fullback, New England was able to pull away from Minnesota, 24-10, to improve to 9-3 on the season.
Asked if there were any issues involved with getting the ball to Gordon early on, Brady said that sometimes, the ball just goes to different guys.
"Sometimes more to Julian [Edelman], Josh, a lot of guys to get the ball to," Brady said. "It's just whoever's open usually gets it. I'm trying to find the most open guy."
Gordon stayed involved for the Patriots after giving them the lead. After a Trey Flowers sack brought an end to the drive for the Vikings that followed Gordon’s touchdown, Gordon drew a 20-yard pass interference penalty and hauled in another 10-yard screen pass for the Patriots.
"I just had to be patient," Gordon said. "I think that's just how the flow of the game was going. We all let it play itself out. It was great to just get an opportunity, make a play and the rest of it was just fun."
The plays helped set up Develin’s second rushing touchdown of the game, this time from 2 yards out, to give New England a two-score lead with 10:54 left in the fourth. Develin also had a 1-yard touchdown run in the first quarter to break open the game’s scoring.
After having just one career rushing touchdown heading into the 2018 season, Develin now has three in the last three games for the Patriots.
Brady finished the day 24 for 32 passing for 311 yards, the 87th game of his career with more than 300 yards passing. His touchdown pass to Gordon was the 579th of his career, matching him with Peyton Manning for the most all-time including the postseason.
Adam Butler also had a sack for the Patriots, who hit Minnesota quarterback Kirk Cousins six times in all.
Butler said after the game that New England had a good game plan before correcting himself and calling it a "great game plan," and credited Elandon Roberts with setting the tone for the Patriots with his big hit on the very first play from scrimmage for the Vikings.
"It was a big hit and I feel like it steamrolled us into the game," Butler said. "The first half, we kept the big plays to a minimum for the most part. We stood up the challenge the whole game, but it all stemmed from that one play."
Duron Harmon and Jonathan Jones each had late interceptions to seal the deal for the Patriots. Harmon's came before and Jones' came right after Brady threw his first pick since Oct. 21 against the Chicago Bears. After four straight clean games, Brady now has eight interceptions on the season -- matching his total from last season.
New England is now 6-0 at home, with two games remaining in the final two weeks of the regular season vs. the Buffalo Bills and New York Jets.
Before then, the Patriots travel to Miami next week to take on the Dolphins at 1 p.m. on Sunday. They finish out their regular season road slate the following week in Pittsburgh against the Steelers.
The Patriots are still the No. 2 seed in the AFC playoff picture, one game behind the Kansas City Chiefs for the top spot and the homefield advantage throughout the playoffs which comes with it. New England does hold the tie-breaker based on its 43-40 win over Kansas City on Oct. 14.