CHICAGO – Every team talks about having the kind of depth that can fortify a position group with interchangeable parts. The Vikings executed the concept perfectly at the most critical moment of Sunday’s 23-20 victory over the Bears at Soldier Field.
Rookie receiver Stefon Diggs was the star. Again. He caught six passes for 95 yards, including a go-ahead 40-yard touchdown late in the game.
But Diggs’ last catch was a 4-yarder that left him with a banged-up left knee as he hobbled to the sideline with the Vikings facing second-and-6 at the Vikings 38-yard line with 36 seconds left in a tie game.
“I got shook up, so the next guy up, he has to make a play,” Diggs said. “And he makes one of the best catches of the game.”
A year ago, Charles Johnson was the next man up when Cordarrelle Patterson failed to develop. This year, Diggs was the next man up when Johnson suffered a rib injury in Week 3.
“We have six guys in that receiver room, and all of them help us win games,” tight end Kyle Rudolph said. “That’s why they’re all active every week they’re healthy.”
With Diggs out, Johnson lined up wide right in a spread formation. He ran a deep route while Teddy Bridgewater, with good protection, launched a ball that was high. The 6-2 Johnson showed off his vertical leap, catching the ball at the highest point of his jump while 6-foot safety Antrel Rolle didn’t come within a foot of matching Johnson.
Rolle said he never saw Johnson coming. He said he saw a poorly thrown ball that was screaming interception. But it was Johnson who came down with the 35-yard gain to set up the game-winning field goal as time expired.
“I thought it was just a for-sure layup [interception],” Rolle said. “I waited on the ball and I jumped, but I guess he had a running start. It’s disappointing because I thought it was just me and the ball.”
That was Johnson’s only catch of the game. He has had only two catches for 56 yards in two games since returning from his rib injury.
He declined interviews after Sunday’s game, saying only, “I’m good. I don’t have anything to say. I’m happy we won the game.”
Those around Johnson were willing to talk about him, however.
“Our guys know that each week, a different guy can have success in this offense,” Bridgewater said. “They know when their number is called, we expect them to make plays. Charles did a great job of doing that today.”
Diggs was asked how he thinks Johnson is accepting the rookie’s quick rise the past month.
“Really, our whole [receiver] room is all love,” he said. “We compete each day with each other, but it’s all love at the end of the day. We want the best for everybody. We want everybody to eat.”