Each week, NFL writer Mark Craig offers his five takeways from the Vikings game.
1. Thielen just as happy blocking
Give Adam Thielen credit. He plays like a good NFL receiver, but he doesn’t act like a lot of them do when they don’t get the ball. A week after catching 12 passes for 202 yards and two touchdowns at Green Bay, the assumption was Thielen would easily get the 40 yards he needed to reach 1,000 on the season for the Vikings. Instead, he was targeted only one time with one catch for 7 yards. “I’m fine with that,” Thielen said. “We won. We lost last week.” Meanwhile, coach Mike Zimmer said: “I honestly don’t care about individual awards or statistics. We threw the ball to the open guy.” Thielen was more excited to talk about the block he made at the goal line to give Jerick McKinnon the room he needed to complete his 10-yard touchdown run off a direct shotgun snap. “We were just waiting for the right time to run that play,” Thielen said. “Jerick got the edge and I was able to get that block. It was a good look against this team and we executed it to perfection.”
2. Rules bent on a couple TDs
Sunday’s game didn’t see a stellar effort from the officials. Both teams questioned rules that were broken but not flagged during touchdowns. The Bears’ lone TD came on a magnificently designed play near the goal line in the second quarter. Quarterback Matt Barkley was in the shotgun when running back Jeremy Langford motioned and got set behind him. Barkley then left his spot and pretended that he was trying to communicate with the right side of the offensive line. While he was doing that, the Bears snapped the ball to Langford, who pitched it to receiver Cameron Meredith, who threw a 2-yard touchdown to a wide-open Barkley. “I’ve never seen that play in my life,” cornerback Captain Munnerlyn said. “But the quarterback never got set. It should have been a penalty. We didn’t know what to do because you aren’t expecting the ball to be snapped when the quarterback is still over there motioning and not set.” Meanwhile, the Bears complained that linebacker Anthony Barr illegally batted a Barkley fumble toward the goal line. That led to Everson Griffen’s 20-yard return for a touchdown.
3. Final tally at LT? Five players
It’s fitting that the Vikings’ season ended with a fifth person having to play left tackle on Sunday. When T.J. Clemmings injured an elbow with 2½ minutes left in the first quarter, rookie Rashod Hill made his NFL regular-season debut. “It’s still kind of shocking to me that I played in a real NFL game,” Hill said. “I’m speechless.” Hill was signed off the Jaguars practice squad on Nov. 15. Sunday was his third time being active. “I still prepared like I was going to play,” he said. “I probably had the iPad out 30 or 40 times studying their pass rush.” Hill was the 12th offensive lineman to play this season and Sunday’s group did not give up a sack all game.
4. Wright needs to play more
What a strange year for Vikings receiver Jarius Wright. “I know,” he said. “Big-time strange.” The five-year veteran, who had 76 catches for 1,030 yards during the 2014-15 seasons, was inactive for seven of the team’s first 10 games. “I’d be lying if I said it didn’t faze me,” he said. Wright went into Sunday’s game with six catches for 43 yards in seven games played. Sunday, with Laquon Treadwell and Stefon Diggs inactive, Wright had a chance to show why he should be playing more. He caught five balls for 24 yards. He produced three first downs, including a 9-yard catch on third-and-8 to set up a field goal. He also put the Vikings ahead 24-7 with a 2-yard touchdown catch.
5. Fruechte shows off speed
Some teammates insist Isaac Fruechte is the Vikings’ fastest receiver. The former Gopher from Caledonia, Minn., finally got to show off that speed in his NFL regular-season debut. But it wasn’t at receiver. It came covering a kickoff in the closing seconds of the first half. Deonte Thompson had raced 64 yards before Fruechte caught him with a touchdown-saving tackle at the Vikings 42-yard line. “I was on the backside,” Fruechte said. “I probably should have done a better job of catching him earlier.” Fruechte spent 2015 and most of this season on the Vikings practice squad before being promoted on Saturday. He was on the field for the opening kickoff as one of the front-line blockers. “I was so nervous, I was just trying to stay onside so I didn’t get a penalty,” he said.