There was little reason to question that Minnesota Vikings wide receiver Adam Thielen had earned his roster spot on the 2016 Vikings. In Thursday night’s 18-11 win over the Seattle Seahawks, Thielen not only made a point that he’s a legitimate candidate to be a prime-time player but should be used more on offense.
But, of the players who stood out Thursday night, perhaps nobody did that more than Thielen.
Thielen, once viewed as a training camp publicity stunt to appease Mankato, caught four passes for 61 yards – the first and the last being more impactful when viewed on film study.
On the opening drive of them game, Shaun Hill, the surprise starter in place of Teddy Bridgewater, was looking to convert a first down. He’s worked plenty with Thielen during training camp. He was his guy.
The pass was in the vicinity, but not on the spot. Thielen plucked it and turned it into an 18-yard gain that prevented a game-opening three-and-out.
After Hill was finally pulled from the game, the Vikings looked to be heading to halftime ahead 8-0. With 1:09 to play, the Vikings ran the ball to test the waters. Gaining 11 yards, they called a timeout and rethought.
After converting a third-down with a 9-yard pass to Thielen that picked up a facemask penalty along the way, the Vikings faced a do-or-die third-and-10 play. Third QB Joel Stave threw up a pass that could have easily been picked off.
Thielen fought for the ball and came down with it, setting up a field goal as time expired to give the Vikings an 11-0 halftime lead – three points that changed how the second half was played.
Head coach Mike Zimmer was impressed, although likely not surprised, with Thielen’s all-around effort, which was highlighted by his ability to make plays when throws weren’t perfect.
“The ball he caught down there before we kicked the field goal was a great catch,” Zimmer said. “The safety had an opportunity to get to it and he just willed it away from him. I think the more things Adam does – he goes in there and plays good and catches and blocks – he does a lot of the dirty work.”
Thielen knew before Thursday night that he had made the roster. Now he has to be wondering how much of the offense will run through him, because he’s making a case to get more chances.
GAME NIGHT NOTES
- Bridgewater wasn’t the only frontline Viking who sat Thursday. So did Adrian Peterson, Eric Kendricks, Sharrif Floyd, Brandon Fusco and Jarius Wright, but only Peterson and Bridgewater were healthy scratches.
- Xavier Rhodes left the game in the first quarter after being involved in a play in which a crack-back block was called on Seattle. Sideline reports were that he was ruled out with a hamstring injury.
- Blair Walsh seems to have a problem with Seattle. While it looked as though he may have exorcised that demon by kicking a 27-yard field goal – the same distance as his infamous playoff miss – in the second half, when it came for a chance to put the Vikings up late in the game with 2:09 to play, Walsh missed a 47-yard field goal wide left.
- If they gave out preseason game balls, Marcus Sherels earned one with a 53-yard interception pick-six return, scoring with 1:23 to play to give the Vikings the margin of victory with a touchdown that put Minnesota up 18-11.
- It was clear from the outset that Seattle was taking the game more seriously than the Vikings. Russell Wilson and the first-team offense played the entire first half, while the Vikings sat all their starters after scoring a touchdown with 2:09 to play in the second quarter.
- The Seattle quarterbacks had a tough time against the Vikings defense. Wilson and undrafted rookie Trevone Boykin were dismal. Wilson completed just 5 of 11 passes for 77 yards and was sacked four times, finishing with a passer rating of 69.1. Boykin completed 10 of 20 passes for 127 yards and an interception, posting a passer rating of 54.5.
- The Seahawks dominated the running game, however. Seattle ran 31 times for 187 yards, an average of 6 yards a carry. The Vikings ran 26 times for just 70 yards – a 2.7-yard average. While Jerick McKinnon scored a touchdown, he and Matt Asiata combined to carry 12 times for just 17 yards.
- Both teams had nine different receivers catch passes. Thielen was the only player to catch more than two passes for the Vikings, but tight end Kyle Rudolph’s two receptions went for 32 and 22 yards.
- Of those players, first-round pick Laquon Treadwell was not one of them.
- Punter Jeff Locke had two touchbacks Thursday. That may not seem significant, but he had just five all last season in 16 games.
- Thanks to a late flurry in the fourth quarter – holding the ball for 10:10 of the final 15 minutes will do that – Seattle held a total yards advantage of 327-258. Seattle ran 71 offensive plays, as opposed to just 58 for the Vikings.
- There is a disadvantage to having quarterbacks like Wilson and his clone Boykin, who are both capable of making the eye-popping play. Like Fran Tarkenton of generations past, both seem willing to turn their back on the defense and run away in a negative-yardage direction in hopes of springing free and potentially making a game-turning play. The Seahawks quarterbacks were sacked six times – including losses of 10, 11, 17 and 18 yards – the kind of plays that consistently kill drives.
- Both coaches will be using some salty language when watching film over the penalties in the game. The Vikings had six penalties for 90 yards – 53 of those coming in the final minute in which Mackensie Alexander was called for pass interference, a play that if not called on Alexander might have seen the same penalty called on Antone Exum.
- Seattle did no better, getting called for 12 penalties for 111 yards.
- On their first drives, the teams combined to run 20 plays – nine for the Vikings on their first drive and 11 for the Seahawks on their initial drive. From that point on, the Vikings never had another drive of more than nine plays and had four three-and-outs. After its first drive, in its final 11 drives, Seattle had just one of more than seven plays and four three-and-outs.
- Alexander led the Vikings with six tackles.
- Justin Trattou led the Vikings with 1½ sacks, looking to solidify his chances of making the final roster. The Vikings shared the wealth with Linval Joseph, Everson Griffen, Andrew Sendejo and Anthony Barr also getting full sacks and a half-sack from defensive end Travis Raciti, who shared the sack with Trattou.
- Seattle’s Bobby Wagner led all tacklers with eight in the first half.
- The Seahawks went for the jugular early, going on a fourth-and-1 play on their opening drive that could have set a much different tone for the game. Facing a third-and-1 from the Vikings 41-yard line, Seattle took out Christine Michael and brought in Alex Collins. On the third-down play, Danielle Hunter and Barr stuffed Collins. On fourth down, Shamar Stephen cut between blockers and snuffed the drive. Wilson would never get closer to the end zone after that.
- Michael Griffin got a lot of snaps Thursday, playing into the second half, a sign that the coaches wanted to get a longer film look on him.
- In the final six minutes, the Vikings threw two challenge flags, both of which seemed clear-cut. The Vikings were denied a challenge that rookie Kentrell Brothers intercepted a pass where mutual possession seemed clear. A second challenge on a reception/non-fumble by tight end Kyle Carter was overturned for obvious reasons in the Vikings favor.
- Following the game, Zimmer may have showed a crack in the armor of giving any insight into his feelings about Walsh’s missed field goal against Seattle in last year’s playoff. When acknowledging that Walsh made a 27-yard field goal when asked a question about his 47-yard miss, Zimmer smiled and winked.
- The Vikings are now 10-1 in the preseason under Zimmer.
- You can’t say Seattle doesn’t love their Seahawks. At a time when many stadiums are half full at best early and sparsely filled in the fourth quarter, Thursday night’s game drew 68,469 fans.