All the key players sang the same refrain: The Vikings offense isn’t designed to reward any individual; plays aren’t called to boost egos or calm nerves.
A counterpoint: If the Minnesota Vikings were determined to feed the ball to an important and disgruntled player, they would have followed the plan they unveiled on Sunday, when Stefon Diggs’ hands were so busy he never had time to employ his famous, thespian-quality cough.
Diggs cost himself more than $200,000 in fines by skipping meetings and a practice two weeks ago, halfheartedly trying to sell the excuse that he had a “cold.” Sunday he proved that “appeasement” should become part of the football lexicon.
Sunday, during the Vikings’ 38-20 victory over Philadelphia at U.S. Bank Stadium, Diggs caught seven passes on 11 targets for 167 yards and three touchdowns and carried twice for 18 yards in what might have been the most impressive of their four victories this season.
Diggs had more receiving yards Sunday than in any other two games this season, and increased his season touchdown total from one to four.
“I have been waiting patiently, preparing, because I think when opportunities come you just have to be prepared,’’ Diggs said.
He didn’t have to wait long on Sunday. The first play of the game: a short pass to Diggs. The first rushing attempt from someone other than Dalvin Cook: a reverse to Diggs.
If not for a couple of drops by Diggs, and an overthrow by quarterback Kirk Cousins on a deep route, Diggs could have surpassed 200 yards and scored four touchdowns.
“I am proud of that guy for sticking in there, because we haven’t been getting him the ball as much as previous years,’’ Cook said. “He has been a great teammate, and today he was special for us.”
Credit goes to Diggs, particularly for a difficult, back-of-the-end-zone, stretch-and-toe-tap touchdown in the third quarter. Credit goes to Cousins for torching a supposedly strong defense.
Much of the credit should probably go to offensive coordinator Kevin Stefanski, whose determination to get Diggs involved and ability to design plays to expose the Eagles’ cornerbacks made the 38-point day possible.
“If we keep stacking these things up, and getting guys the ball, we will become the offense we want to be,’’ Cook said. “Teams just can’t sit back and say they need to stop the run. We have guys that can make plays.’’
That’s why play-calling is vital for this franchise right now. Cousins, Adam Thielen, Diggs and tight end Kyle Rudolph are all signed to significant contracts. Cousins, Thielen and Diggs are irreplaceable, and Rudolph remains a better all-around player than Irv Smith, who will eventually replace him.
Telling a player to shut up and do his job doesn’t work anymore, if it ever did. The Vikings signed Diggs to a long-term deal and need him to perform. Keeping him involved is just as important as running the ball and protecting Cousins.
“We missed Diggsy on that post at the end of the [first] half,’’ Cousins said. “I thought about apologizing to him, but apparently that’s not the way to go around here. I guess my days of apologizing to people are over.”
Cousins was playing for a laugh, and he got it. He issued the infamous apology to Thielen and is thought to be the anonymous, unindicted co-conspirator in the Diggs drama.
What the past two weeks have proved is that winning can turn an apology into a punch line, that a few long passes are better for coughs than honey and lemon.
“It’s all the coaching staff, and having the opportunities come up at the right time,” Diggs said.
Two weeks after looking incompetent against the Bears, the apology and the “cold,” the Vikings have won easily twice while appeasing their star receivers.
On Monday, Rudolph would do well to come down with a severe case of the sniffles.
Jim Souhan’s podcast can be heard at TalkNorth.com. On Twitter: @SouhanStrib. firstname.lastname@example.org