On one of the more memorable plays of an otherwise forgettable game Sunday, Stefon Diggs ran a comeback route near the left sideline with Lions defensive back Darius Slay matching him step-for-step.
Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins, after faking a handoff, bought time by rolling out to his left, eventually firing the ball toward Diggs — who corralled the ball and dragged both feet while staying inbounds by inches, all while Slay was close enough to hear him breathe.
It was a great throw and great coverage, but the catch was the best of all. All Slay could do was tip his cap — which he did later on Twitter, in an exchange that caught my attention.
"Great … catch," Slay tweeted about an hour after the game ended Sunday, along with a facepalm emoji, a replay of the grab and a colorful word between "great" and "catch".
A few hours later, Diggs tweeted a reply to Slay: "You one of the best in the game … respect."
Every NFL game brings countless examples of trash-talking between highly competitive players, some of which spills over into heated exchanges. Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers, who the Vikings will see Sunday, is well-known for loudly sharing opinions during games (though the spirit of Rivers' trash talk is such that Mike Zimmer smiled when describing it Wednesday).
But moments of genuine admiration and respect? Yeah, those happen, too — and not just on social media after players have cooled off.
"I mean when it's good on good, big on big, guys know," Diggs said when asked about his interaction with Slay. "You have some guys who don't like each other, but I don't really have … a beef with nobody. When he says good play on his behalf, I'm going to let him know, and vice-versa."
Diggs made another highlight-worthy catch over Slay on a deep ball later in the first half, but Diggs had a quiet second half while Slay was credited with a pass breakup.
Vikings running back Dalvin Cook entered the week fourth in the league in rushing yards (1,108) and tied for first in rushing touchdowns (13), so he's had plenty of success this season. If he breaks a big one or dodges tackles, Cook said he will hear about it from defenders.
"You get some," he said. "I don't know if they tell you as nicely, but they'll tell you like 'good run.'"
And it's a two-way street, Cook said, when it comes to dishing out a compliment.
"Yeah, if a person gets a good lick on me, you have to," he said, adding that he'll say "good tackle" or good hit" to an opponent.
Then again, you don't want to go too far. Cook said if an opponent is too impressed he might take that information as a sign that the defense can't stop him.
"If he tells me that, we better run it again," Cook said with a laugh.
But mostly it's just the recognition that in a league full of elite athletes who often train together and have common goals — win and stay employed — showing respect and admiration doesn't diminish a player's edge.
As Diggs said, it's all part of the fun of competition.
"Part of this game is if you pride yourself on being a dog. I see a dog every week. No matter who we play, I see a good player every week," he said. "So it's always fun going good on good because you're going to win some and you're going to lose some. At the end of the day, you're just trying to come out on top.".