NEW ORLEANS – After Adam Thielen fumbled away the Vikings’ opening possession during Sunday’s 26-20 win against the Saints, he flushed it away.
Inside the Superdome, Thielen literally mimed with his index finger the motion of flushing a toilet — a trick the seven-year NFL veteran picked up from a mental performance consultant at Minnesota State Mankato.
“We actually had a toilet on the sideline in college,” Thielen said. “We had like a little mini-toilet; we’d go and flush it.”
With one finger, Thielen seemingly turned back into the superhero who often lifted the Vikings offense before an Oct. 20 hamstring injury derailed the second half of his season. He put to rest any questions about his health in New Orleans, emerging with seven catches for a game-high 129 receiving yards against the Saints, punctuated by the 43-yard reception in overtime that set up tight end Kyle Rudolph’s game-winning touchdown.
Thielen, who set up an earlier touchdown with a 34-yard catch on third down, entered Sunday with just three catches in three games since the Week 7 injury. His performance against the Saints, combined with running back Dalvin Cook’s return, showed the ceiling for a healthy Vikings offense.
“When he makes a bad play, he never compounds it,” coach Mike Zimmer said. “Then he’s going to make big plays. The catch he made there at the end was a terrific catch, great throw.”
When the Vikings won the coin toss and received first in overtime, Zimmer told some defenders he was “leaving nothing in the bag.” Coordinator Kevin Stefanski called for the deep shot to Thielen on first down just as Saints cornerback Marshon Lattimore exited the game.
Zimmer acknowledged Lattimore’s absence may have been communicated in the coaches’ headsets.
Quarterback Kirk Cousins said he was none the wiser.
“There was nothing in the helmet to me about that,” Cousins said. “I was just reading coverage and going where my read took me.”
That particular play-action pass, according to Thielen, had been dormant in the Vikings’ playbook before Cousins dropped a dime over Saints cornerback Patrick Robinson.
“Couldn’t have been a more perfect ball,” Thielen said. “It was something we hadn’t thrown in a long time. We had been practicing it. Never thought it’d come in that situation, but kudos to [Cousins].”
A large smile emerged from Bisi Johnson, the seventh-round rookie receiver, when asked about playing behind Thielen and Stefon Diggs. The duo, when healthy, can provide a spark from either end.
“To have two basically All-Pro receivers to learn from,” Johnson said, “and get an opportunity to play. It’s been a crazy first year but an exciting first year. We just won an NFL playoff game, what is that? That’s crazy.”