EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – At the end of a perilous week, Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs sat in a locker room long after a lopsided victory, still wearing their uniforms, eating peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwiches and laughing. All they were missing were orange slices and rides home with their parents.
The previous Sunday, the Vikings lost in ugly fashion in Chicago.
Monday, Diggs began skipping work, earning him about $200,000 in fines. “It is accurate,’’ he said.
Tuesday, quarterback Kirk Cousins apologized publicly for not getting the ball to Thielen.
Wednesday, Diggs skipped practice.
Thursday, Thielen complained that reporters inflated the drama.
Sunday, Cousins completed 22 of 27 passes for 306 yards, Thielen caught seven passes for 130 yards and two touchdowns, Diggs took responsibility for his actions, and the Vikings won 28-10, feeling less angst than anybody who had to drive through traffic to get to the game.
Thielen was wrong. If Diggs had gone AWOL, the Vikings’ playoff hopes would have been in jeopardy. Diggs could have gotten half the organization fired.
Where Thielen may have had a point is that almost every NFL team with star receivers deals with air-traffic-controller-level stress.
Jerry Rice complained when he didn’t get the ball. So did Randy Moss and Cris Carter. Soon-to-be unearthed evidence will show Don Maynard complaining on Instagram that Joe Namath loved his fur coats more than his wideouts.
What is certain about the week is that it ended well because the Vikings got to play a game in New Jersey.
So, for future reference, here’s a guide to handling NFL receiver melodramas:
1. Have your struggling quarterback apologize. Must pretend to be sincere.
2. Don’t bench your complaining receiver, and throw the ball to him early in the next game. If you had to replace him, you’d be replacing him with another receiver who would eventually complain, so ride out the storm, unless the guy starts making videos and recording phone calls with the head coach. Then get a lawyer.
3. Pretend that accurate reporting about your internal problems is inaccurate, even while telling people around you that the reporting is dead-on.
4. Play a team like the New York Football-ish Giants, who are “rebuilding’’ and employ “linebackers.’’
If the Vikings had to play a good team on Sunday, all could have been lost. Instead, Cousins, Thielen, Dalvin Cook, the defense and kicker Dan Bailey were excellent, and Diggs, after another quiet game, didn’t complain.
“I’ll do whatever they ask me to do at this point,’’ Diggs said.
“He’s always there for me and I’m going to be there for him,’’ Thielen said. “He’s my guy.’’
“You want everybody there and you also understand that this is a business and people have decisions they need to make,’’ Cousins said. “This is not my first rodeo. I think some of these questions are being asked like I’m a rookie and have never experienced this before. This is Year 8 for me. I’ve played with some big-time, big-name receivers who have done some great things in this league before that aren’t named Adam Thielen or Stefon Diggs, OK?
“My relationship with those guys has been outstanding from Day 1 until now, and I’m not surprised by what this league can throw at you.’’
This week was much ado about something.
Credit Thielen for producing, Cousins for diplomacy and coach Mike Zimmer for taking a wise path. He could have used old-school justifications for benching Diggs, but that would have damaged the team.
The Vikings proved Sunday that they could handle drama and beat a mediocrity featuring a rookie quarterback, but the fate of this season rests with future performances against quality teams.
Remember, Cousins and Thielen didn’t argue on the sideline in Week 1 last year. That happened in Week 17, when they were losing the game that would keep them out of the playoffs.
“We have to approach this week like we approached last week,’’ Thielen said. “With a lot of frustration.’’
Sounds like a plan, but be warned: The New York Football-ish Giants are not always there when you need them.