With the Vikings shorthanded at wide receiver Sunday at Denver, many felt the team would likely have to count on the running game because they were going to be without Charles Johnson and Jarius Wright, two of their top three wide receivers.
While it didn’t add up to a win, the Vikings came away from their 23-20 loss at Denver knowing that Teddy Bridgewater can make plays with any receiver group and that youngsters Stefon Diggs and Adam Thielen can be significant contributors to the offense.
Coming into Sunday’s game, most of Thielen’s contributions had been on special teams. He had caught just two passes for 16 yards in the first three games and wasn’t asked to do much for the Vikings offense.
Diggs had been inactive the first three games and all but forgotten after a strong training camp and preseason.
On Sunday, both would make their case for getting more playing time with the offense, especially Diggs, who led the team with 87 receiving yards. Thielen wasn’t far behind with six catches for 70 yards.
While Diggs got a little post-game criticism from head coach Mike Zimmer for putting two balls on the ground after making catches, he recovered both of them and did little to take away from a strong NFL debut.
What made Diggs’ debut so impressive was the big spots in which he made many of his catches. In the second quarter, with the Vikings trailing 3-0 and facing third-and-6, Diggs caught a 25-yard pass that put the Vikings in scoring position. Kicker Blair Walsh would miss a 38-yard field goal, but Diggs wasn’t done.
With less than three minutes left in the first half, Diggs caught another 25-yard pass that put the Vikings in scoring position again. This time Walsh would make good and cut Denver’s lead to 13-3.
In the fourth quarter, Diggs had a critical 7-yard reception from the Vikings 8-yard line the kept the drive going and would turn into a 97-yard touchdown drive. He would later catch a 21-yard pass on a first-and-20 situation that once again put the Vikings offense in scoring position and would lead to the game-tying field goal by Walsh with 5:11 to play.
For a player making his NFL debut, Bridgewater was proud of the work that Diggs put in to pick up the slack for what the Vikings were missing without Johnson and Wright.
“He is a guy who knows he has to be patient,” Bridgewater said. “He’s a guy who waited his time and his number was called and he stepped up for us today. That’s what we expect from those guys in that wide receiver room. Those guys have that big-play ability and whenever their number is called, we expect them to answer.”
While Diggs got much of the attention for his performance, Thielen had more than his fair share of moments as well. On the first drive of the game, he converted a third-down situation with a 12-yard catch. On the Vikings’ 97-yard touchdown drive, he had receptions of 18 and 16 yards and had a 10-yard reception on the Vikings’ final scoring drive to get them to the 15-yard line for the Walsh field goal that tied the game.
As the Vikings head into their bye week, the hope is that Johnson and Wright will return and be the key component pieces of the Vikings offense that they have been since Bridgewater became the starter last season. But, until then, the Vikings can feel good that they have quality receivers who can make plays when called to service.
Throw in that Mike Wallace had his best day as a Viking, catching eight passes for 83 yards and a touchdown and Bridgewater believes that there is limitless possibilities to what the Vikings pass offense can achieve.
“Those guys did a great job today,” Bridgewater said. “You talk about Mike, eight catches. Stefon Diggs, six catches. Adam Thielen coming in and making plays for us – big third down catches that changed the field position. It was an overall team effort and those guys did a great job in their route running.”
Sunday’s game was a disappointing loss considering the team erased an early 13-0 deficit and came back to tie the game 20-20 in the last five minutes, but there were some positives to take away from the game – tops among them that, if needed, Bridgewater has a couple of more weapons in his arsenal that may end up finding their way on the field more because, quite simply, they earned it on Sunday.