It's not how Vikings coaches planned Sheldon Richardson's return this season to the defensive line, but his recent move to defensive end paid dividends during Sunday's 34-31 win against the Packers.

Richardson had one of his best games of the season as a 290-pound edge rusher, reinforcing a thin end rotation without Danielle Hunter, Stephen Weatherly or Kenny Willekes. Richardson, who played defensive tackle the past two seasons for the Cleveland Browns after being with the Vikings in 2018, came off the bench and contributed four pressures on Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers, hitting him twice, while adding two run stops.

"Sheldon did a good job of learning what he had to do in a week," coach Mike Zimmer said. "He's got a little different kind of rush. He's a bigger body guy that can get on these tackles a little bit better than some of these ends that we have. I thought he did some good things, and we'll probably have to keep using him there."

They might need more from him on Sunday in San Francisco, although Willekes could return after missing the Packers game due to a COVID case. The Vikings still generated a decent pass rush at times. After twice sacking Rodgers, the Vikings defense has 31 sacks — tied for the NFL high — despite losing Hunter on Oct. 31.

"We're thin," Zimmer said. "We've got to just try to manufacture however we can."

Richardson threw his weight around against Packers right tackle Billy Turner, working him into the backfield a couple times to throw off Rodgers.

"[Richardson] is a big guy that can move really well," defensive end D.J. Wonnum said, "like a defensive end. Having him be able to play inside and outside is a big boost."

Longtime assistant recognized

Dennis Ryan, the Vikings longtime equipment manager, missed his first Vikings regular season game since 1979.

Ryan, whose consecutive game streak hit 705, tested positive for COVID-19 last week, according to Zimmer. Hired by former Vikings coach Bud Grant in 1977, Ryan told Zimmer on Sunday night that he's feeling well and expects to return to work this week. After the win over Green Bay, Zimmer dedicated a game ball to Ryan, who told that was a first in his 45th season with the franchise.

"It was appropriate for him," Zimmer said. "He goes out of his way for everybody in the building, the players, the coaches. He does everything in the building for everyone."

The rest of the equipment staff shuffled duties to make up for Ryan's absence on Sunday, which wasn't a first. Equipment assistant Adam Groene previously missed a week due to COVID, according to Zimmer, who added that no other staffers have recently tested positive.

"Guys are moving around, trying to do extra people's duties," Zimmer said. "Kind of like when coaches are out."

'We have a lot of confidence'

No NFL receiver duo has combined for more catches (121) than Vikings wideouts Adam Thielen and Justin Jefferson. And only the Rams' Cooper Kupp and Robert Woods — who suffered a season-ending knee injury earlier this month — have combined for more yards and have as many touchdown catches (14).

But Thielen, the 31-year-old veteran, has been around too long to get baited into making headlines by declaring they're the league's best.

"We have a lot of confidence," Thielen said. "I don't want to rank us, but honestly, we feel really good about what we can do on the football field, and we feel really good about getting opportunities."