PHILADELPHIA — Adam Thielen reached another career milestone in Week 5, becoming the first player in the Super Bowl era to have 100 or more yards receiving in each of his team’s first five games. In the Minnesota Vikings‘ 23-21 victory over the Eagles, Thielen caught seven passes for 116 yards and a touchdown, including a 68-yard bomb from quarterback Kirk Cousins that flipped field position for the Vikings at a crucial point in the third quarter.
Yet that achievement pales in comparison to coming through for his team on the most important play of the game.
When the Eagles attempted to get the ball back after capping off a 75-yard drive with a late touchdown that got Philadelphia within two, it was Thielen who ended up at the bottom of the pile upon recovering Jake Elliott‘s onside kick attempt, allowing Minnesota to move into victory formation the next play.
“The good thing is our coaches do a phenomenal job of putting us in good positions, and we knew all week he was going to come to my side and we saw plenty of tape,” Thielen said. “He’s a really good onside kicker and he kicked a phenomenal kick. That was one of the nastiest kicks I’d ever seen. It wasn’t easy but we got it done.”
That type of play speaks to Thielen’s impact across the board for the Vikings. Given his workload on offense, the Pro Bowl receiver isn’t often a part of special teams during games, but is a constant presence in meetings that don’t require his attendance. Special-teams coordinator Mike Priefer lauded Thielen this past week for the time he puts into knowing his assignments just in case he’s needed, and credited the wide receiver as the best backup long-snapper on the team.
So when the Vikings needed to pull out two crucial special-teams plays late in the fourth quarter (Thielen also fielded a punt at the 11-yard line after the Vikings defense stopped the Eagles at Minnesota’s 45 yard line with 9 minutes, 17 seconds to play), they knew who to turn to.
“I think his deal is all heart,” coach Mike Zimmer said. “No. 1, he’s got the biggest heart there is. No. 2, he’s always talking about how he can get better. He comes up to me during the week and says, ‘I’m doing this and I just need to run, or I need to do this,’ and I said, ‘I’ll remind you,’ and even the long one he caught he said, ‘Man, I’m faster than that. I should have scored on that.’ That’s the kind of guys he is. The onside kick went to him and I told him, ‘Catch it the first time next time, would ya?’ He’s a great competitor.”
This isn’t the first time Minnesota has called on Thielen for special teams. During the NFC North-clinching 2015 regular-season finale against Green Bay Packers, the Vikings ran a fake punt with Thielen, who took the ball 41 yards to set up a field goal.
Thielen currently leads the NFL with 589 receiving yards through the first five weeks of the season. The chemistry Thielen has built with Cousins is paying early dividends for the Vikings, as is the production Minnesota is also getting from Stefon Diggs.
Cousins was 17-of-21 for 207 yards and a touchdown when targeting Thielen and Diggs against the Eagles, bringing his completion percentage to 70 percent on the passes the duo has caught, on which they’ve totaled 955 yards, six touchdowns and zero interceptions.
Thielen and Diggs combined for 108 yards after the catch Sunday, their second-most as teammates, according to ESPN Stats & Information data.
The competitive fire Thielen displays has taken him from undrafted Division II star to one of the league’s best receivers. It’s an edge Cousins noticed soon after becoming teammates with the 28-year-old and speaks to the impact he’s made for the Vikings on a consistent basis.
“He loves to compete,” Cousins said of Thielen. “He didn’t want to take a day off in OTAs or in training camp. When he isn’t involved in the offense for any amount of time, he gets frustrated because he wants to help the team. As a competitor, he wants to contribute. I am learning more and more about my teammates every week, but you certainly saw that in him from practice since Day 1.”