East Rutherford, N.J. – One minute he was sinking his teeth into an NFL record, the next he was spitting blood. Adam Thielen left MetLife Stadium with another milestone and a cut mouth, courtesy of a shoulder to the chin.
That hit left him wandering the sideline looking like a boxer without a corner man, even if he seems to be the rare star receiver who can keep everyone in his corner. Instead of the humble brag, Thielen has mastered the humble snag — the ability to catch a difficult pass, then pass on credit.
His touchdown catch with a defender’s arm draped on his chest? “Kirk pretty much caught that ball for me,’’ Thielen said of quarterback Kirk Cousins.
His reaction to tying an NFL record with seven straight 100-yard games to start a season? “Life is all about the people you have around you,’’ Thielen said.
After tying Charley Hennigan’s record, set in 1961, Thielen seems to be playing a character from “The Andy Griffith Show” (Google it). He’s a small-town boy who played at a small-town school and had to try out to make an NFL team and went on to greatness. It would be sickeningly saccharine if it weren’t true.
“I was talking to all of my friends back in training camp and I said, ‘You guys watch out for Adam this year — it’s going to be his breakout year,’’ Vikings rookie Brandon Zylstra said. “I know what he did last year, but I thought this would be his breakout year, just because of how smooth he was with his routes this summer. He’s a route technician.’’
Of all Thielen’s fans in the Vikings’ locker room, Zylstra and fullback C.J. Ham have the most invested in his story. Both played at smaller midwest colleges and made it to the Vikings, only to discover that Thielen had taken their story and rewritten it as a Hollywood blockbuster.
“It’s not about him being an undrafted free agent or being from a small school anymore,’’ Ham said. “Now the story is that he’s just a phenomenal wide receiver.’’
Hard to argue, and why would anyone bother? In the Vikings’ 37-17 victory over the Jets, Thielen caught nine of the 10 passes thrown to him for 110 yards and one touchdown.
Through seven games, Thielen has caught 67 passes for 822 yards and five touchdowns. If he reaches 100 receiving yards on Sunday night against New Orleans, he will set an NFL record in the state where he played for Detroit Lakes High and Minnesota State Mankato and tried out for the Vikings after going undrafted.
“He’s still a humble dude,’’ Zylstra said. “Going to a small school probably has something to do with that.’’
Thielen is beating athletes from large schools and small now, and beating them with what his teammates say is maximum deceptiveness during his routes. On his touchdown, he was not open when Cousins released a long pass down the right sideline, but he got a step on the cornerback while the ball was in the air, then pulled it away in the end zone.
On a 15-yard catch to the Jets 3 in the second quarter, Thielen made a sharp break to the sideline, instantly creating 5 yards of space, then turned to find that Cousins had all but placed the ball in his hands.
Of all the dramatic aspects of Thielen’s story and season, perhaps the most subtle is that he is producing one of the most remarkable seasons in franchise history while getting to know a new quarterback and offensive coordinator.
Thielen is intentionally bland during mass interviews and when he grabs the phone of a media relations person on his way off the field to thank fans. Ask him about that routine, and his personality shows.
“They make me do this stupid video after we win,’’ Thielen said, sarcastically, and with a smirk. “You know — you’ve got to get that content out there.’’
If catches are content, Thielen is overloading America’s WiFi, and producing videos defenses might consider viral.