Rapid reaction: Pats 28, Vikings 18

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Rapid reaction following the Patriots’ 28-18 victory over the Vikings at Gillette Stadium:

What it means: The Patriots improve to 6-1, the best record in the NFL (the 5-1 Steelers play tonight). This was a contest in which the bend-but-don’t-break defense stiffened in the third quarter and the offense – turning to the big play and the running game – surged ahead in the final 30 minutes.

What’s next: The Patriots visit the 2-5 Browns, who had an upset win on the road over the Saints last week and are off this weekend.

Moss’ return to town: Randy Moss had a quiet return, with the Patriots consistently playing safety Brandon Meriweather over the top of him. He finished with one catch for 8 yards and was booed on the play. Moss did draw a pass interference penalty on safety Brandon Meriweather in the fourth quarter on a blitz. Had Meriweather not interfered with Moss, it probably would have been a touchdown.

Tate rises up in Moss’ absence: When the Patriots traded Moss, some viewed it as a chance for Brandon Tate to rise up as the team’s deep threat. That didn’t come to life until today, with Tate on the receiving end of a 65-yard catch-and-run touchdown in the third quarter. It was a big play in the game.

Game changed in third quarter: The game was tied at 7 at the half, with the Vikings holding a 19:13-10:47 time of possession edge. It looked like the Vikings were about to take control with a strong opening drive in the third quarter, but the third-down defense held its ground and forced a field goal. With stops on third down on the Vikings’ next two drives, and a quick-strike offense, the Patriots opened a 21-10 lead at the end of the third.

Running game comes to life in the second half. The Patriots had nine carries for nine yards in the first half, but they were sparked by a strong ground attack in the second half. BenJarvus Green-Ellis had two bruising touchdown runs as the offense – which was having trouble moving the ball through the air – found its way on the ground. Green-Ellis was a key as he produced his first career multi-touchdown game.

McCourty in discussion of NFL’s top rookie defenders: Patriots rookie cornerback Devin McCourty played another solid game, intercepting a pass for the second week in a row. McCourty, who has been on the field for all but one play this season, is in the discussion of the NFL’s top defensive rookies. His interception today, in which he took the ball away from Percy Harvin, showed his solid ball skills.

Favre hit hard by Pryor in fourth, leaves the game: Quarterback Brett Favre was carted off the field and there were towels being held to his bloodied chin midway through the fourth quarter, as defensive lineman Myron Pryor had delivered a big hit. Tarvaris Jackson came into the game and finished off an impressive touchdown drive that was aided by Patriots penalties. Favre never returned. Favre was the big story nationally all week, and he remained a big story after the game.