Outings like Sunday night reminded the Vikings that Adam Thielen is human.
Even in a game in which he set an NFL record for most 100-yard performances to begin a season, toppling a mark that had stood since 1961, the receiver’s sixth catch ended in the pivotal letdown of the 30-20 loss to the New Orleans Saints. Thielen was sandwiched between two defenders, leading to his red-zone fumble and a 54-yard return by cornerback Marshon Lattimore.
Two plays later, the Saints scored a touchdown and took a 17-13 lead just before halftime. The Vikings wouldn’t lead again.
“Obviously, that’s probably the biggest reason we lost the game,” Thielen said after his first fumble of the season and the sixth of his career. “When you have the momentum going into the half, have a chance to score points and then you get a chance to get the ball in the second half, that’s a huge play. Can’t happen.”
Thielen caught all seven passes thrown to him for 103 yards and a touchdown. Another standout receiving day places him alone with eight consecutive 100-yard games to begin the season, surpassing the NFL record that had stood for 57 years. He is also now tied with ex-Lions great Calvin Johnson for the record of most consecutive games with 100 receiving yards (eight), a mark Johnson set in 2012.
Those records don’t sit well with Thielen immediately after his first lost fumble in 21 games, a previously clean record dating back to Week 4 of the 2017 season.
“Not good,” Thielen said. “I think I’ve said this eight weeks in a row, but 100 yards doesn’t mean anything unless you’re winning games, unless you’re helping the team win — and I didn’t do that tonight.”
The fumble had a ripple effect.
Since New Orleans scored two plays after the turnover, the Vikings got the ball back with 30 seconds left and two timeouts before halftime. But coach Mike Zimmer opted to run out the clock. Zimmer acknowledged afterward that Thielen’s fumble was a factor in his decision to pivot from an aggressive approach in favor of a conservative decision to not push the ball downfield in that instance.
“It’s disappointing because we had a chance to score there,” Zimmer said of Thielen’s fumble. “We go up, who knows, seven to 10 points up.”
Thielen and receiver Stefon Diggs both eclipsed 100 receiving yards in the losing effort. Diggs seemingly made his own mistake when he halted a crossing route that led to quarterback Kirk Cousins’ interception returned 45 yards by P.J. Williams for a Saints touchdown in the third quarter.
Those rare mistakes were the biggest slip-ups for the Vikings in this NFC playoff rematch.
“I think that’s what’s interesting about it,” Cousins said. “They have been so good that you take for granted that they’re human and mistakes happen.”