For much of his early career, whenever you would read an Adam Thielen story, it was almost the equivalent to something out of Rudy central casting – the undersized underdog who was more of a gimmick than a legitimate football player.
In Minnesota, fans have long since abandoned that theory, having seen what Thielen can do on the football field. But in Sunday’s 31-13 win over Houston, Thielen was asked to be the lead dog of the wide receiver corps with Stefon Diggs out. He responded with a career-best seven receptions for 127 yards and a touchdown.
While Thielen is emerging as a bigger threat in the Minnesota Vikings offense, he maintains that the receivers are a group and not a collection of individuals. If one of them succeeds, they all succeed. Sunday was just his turn in line.
“We know that we have a lot of good receivers on this team and a lot of weapons on the offensive side of the ball,” Thielen said. “I think it just shows how deep we are on both sides of the ball. I think it’s a testament to our G.M. (Rick Spielman), our head coach and all the coaches who are preparing guys and getting a lot of really good players in here.”
Thielen has made the ascent from practice squad to special teams to earning starting spots throughout the season. His role in the offense has expanded exponentially, but his preparation hasn’t.
He has always felt like he has to work as hard or harder than anyone on the offense and said getting the start Sunday and producing in place of Diggs didn’t phase him at all. He’s been preparing for days like Sunday his entire football life.
“It didn’t matter,” Thielen said. “When I was on the practice squad, I was practicing like I was going to play. You’ve just got to prepare like you’re going to start and whatever happens will happen.”
His work ethic and innate playmaking ability has caught the notice of his teammates, especially those who go up against him in practice. Cornerback Captain Munnerlyn said he initially underestimated Thielen when he first came to the Vikings, but quickly changed his mind.
Two-plus years later, he not only has respect for Thielen, he thinks he may be the most improved player in the league.
“He’s a guy that’s been through a lot, from being an undrafted guy to being a walk-on to work his way into the NFL,” Munnerlyn said. “He has to come out and prove himself every year. He’s a special athlete. I think he’s the best athlete on our team. He can do everything.”
When the Vikings come back from their bye week, Diggs likely will resume his spot as the main dog in the receiver room, but the faith that Thielen has earned will make it difficult to keep him off the field.
He doesn’t care about stats or accolades. He just wants to keep doing what he’s doing and have the Vikings keep doing what they’re doing – winning.
“I’m just playing football,” Thielen said. “This is what I love to do and I just want to play to the best of my ability.”
GAME DAY NOTES
- The Vikings became just the second team since 1933 to start a season 5-0 without throwing an interception – the other being the 1969 Los Angeles Rams.
- Minnesota’s perfection on not turning the ball over on offense continued. Through 20 quarters, the Vikings have been assessed just one turnover and that came against Green Bay when safety Andrew Sendejo scooped up an Aaron Rodgers fumble and was almost immediately stripped of the ball for the second fumble on the one play.
- Houston converted just one of 13 third downs in the game. Two weeks ago, the Vikings defense was overpowering, but stunk on third down, allowing more than 47 percent of opponent opportunities to be converted. In the last two weeks, they have allowed just three of 25 third downs to be converted.
- The Vikings converted seven of 14 third downs, which was saying something since they were running the ball much of the fourth quarter to milk the clock.
- Sam Bradford continued his impressive play Sunday, completing 22 of 30 passes for 271 yards, two touchdowns and a passer rating of 123.1 - continuing his streak of four starts without a turnover.
- If there was a downside to Sunday’s game, it was that the Vikings committed nine penalties that cost them 97 yards.
- TE MyCole Pruitt suffered a right knee injury and will get a magnetic resonance imaging test on Monday.
- The Vikings ended up running the ball 37 times for 96 yards and a touchdown. Matt Asiata led the team in rushing for the first time this season, rushing 14 times for 55 yards. Jerick McKinnon ran 20 times for 36 yards.
- Lamar Miller came into action Sunday with 93 carries in four games – only one behind league leader Ezekiel Elliott for the most this season. Miller had just eight carries for 20 yards before coming out on the final series. His replacement, Alfred Blue, gained 39 yards on six carries at garbage time.
- The Vikings again kept an opponent’s top receivers in check. DeAndre Hopkins and Will Fuller combined to catch just six passes for 60 yards – all in the second half.
- Cordarrelle Patterson caught his first touchdown pass since 2014, when he scored a receiving TD against Buffalo.
- Of their first eight drives, the Texans had four plays or fewer on six of them and gained five yards or less on all six of those.
- The Vikings recorded four more sacks Sunday, giving them 19 on the season. Brian Robison had two (and nearly a third) and Danielle Hunter and Tom Johnson had one each.
- Of the 15 offensive plays Houston ran in the third quarter, only one of them was a run as the Vikings made them one-dimensional when their deficit got too big to mix and match on offense.
- Through five games, the Vikings haven’t allowed a point in the third quarter, a testament to making accurate halftime adjustments.
- Hopkins didn’t have his first catch until seven minutes remained in third quarter.
- Bradford completed 13 of 18 passes for 157 yards and one TD in the first half, posting a passer rating of 117.1. Osweiler completed just seven of 20 passes for 54 yards in that span, putting up a passer rating of 43.8.
- McKinnon led the Vikings with 29 rushing yards on 12 carries. Miller had all of Houston’s rushing attempts, gaining 19 yards on seven carries.
- Theilen led all receivers in the first half with three catches for 66 yards and a touchdown.
- Hopkins and Fuller didn’t have a reception in the first half.
- The Vikings outgained Houston 187-67 in the first half, despite finishing with just 10 more plays called (38 to 28). Minnesota had 13 first downs as opposed to just five for the Texans.
- The Vikings converted four of seven third-down opportunities, while preventing the Texans from earning a first down offensively (0 of 8) in the first half.
- The Vikings had a time of possession edge of 19:45 to 10:15 in the first half.
- Houston’s offense didn’t earn its own initial first down until Lamar Miller took a run 4 yards at the 2-minute warning of the first half.
- Patterson suffered a hip injury in the second quarter and was taken off on a cart, but came back to have a big second half that looked in doubt early on.
- Houston didn’t pick up its initial first down of the game until 8:07 remained in the first half and it came on a pass interference penalty on Xavier Rhodes.
- The Texans looked to be stopped on fourth down with an Everson Griffen sack, but a holding penalty on Rhodes kept the drive alive.
- Harrison Smith had a chance to get the defense on the board midway through the second quarter but dropped one of the easier pick-sixes he has had in his career.
- Smith’s drop didn’t hurt the Vikings, however, as Marcus Sherels brought a punt back 79 yards for a touchdown to give the Vikings a 24-0 lead.
- At the time of Sherels’ touchdown, in two road games in less than five and-a-half quarters, Houston had been outscored 51-0 on the road.
- The Vikings’ first drive of the second quarter took 6:19 off the clock on a 15-play marathon that got down the 1-yard line. But the Vikings settled for a short field goal, increasing their lead to 17-0.
- At the time of the Vikings’ field goal to take the 17-0 lead, the time of possession edge for the Vikings was 16:07 to just 3:55 by Houston.
- In the first quarter, the Vikings out-gained Houston 141-13, running 22 plays to just nine for the Texans. The Vikings held the ball for 11:05 of the game’s first 15 minutes, not allowing a first down to Houston while picking up 10 first downs of their own.
- The dominance of the Vikings offense was shown in the individual stats. Bradford completed seven of nine passes for 11 yards and a touchdown for a passer rating of 155.1 in the first quarter. McKinnon had 9 carries for 30 yards. Thielen led all receivers with two catches for 59 yards and a touchdown.
- Osweiler completed just two of six passes for 7 yards in the first quarter.
- In the first eight-and-a-half minutes, the Vikings outgained Houston 129-3 and had nine first downs to none for the Texans.
- After forcing a three-and-out on Houston’s first drive, the Vikings drove 55 yards in eight plays, capped by a 1-yard touchdown run by Asiata to give Minnesota a 14-0 lead with 6:28 left in the first quarter.
- On the opening drive, the Vikings lost guard Brandon Fusco to the concussion protocol. He was quickly ruled out for the remainder of the game.
- The Vikings got things started early, taking the opening kickoff and driving 84 yards on eight plays, capped by a 36-yard touchdown from Bradford to Thielen.
- Dating back to last season, the Vikings had won eight straight games, the longest such streak since the 2002-03 seasons.
- The Vikings have never lost to the Texans, winning 34-28 in overtime at Houston in 2004, winning 28-21 at the Metrodome in 2008 and 23-6 at Houston in 2012.
- The honorary captains for the Vikings Sunday were 1970s star cornerback Bobby Bryant and wide receiver Sammy White.
- Former Vikings quarterback Tommy Kramer sounded the Gjallarhorn prior to the start of the game.
- Hall of Famer Chris Doleman led the Vikings war chant prior to the game.
- The paid attendance was 66,683.