DETROIT – Stefon Diggs put the exclamation point on a big division victory only 19 days after he appeared to make himself and the Vikings locker room among the biggest question marks in the NFL.
“What you see is not always what it is,” Mark Wilf, Vikings co-owner and president, said about three hours before Diggs’ 66-yard catch led to the fatal dagger in the Vikings’ 42-30 victory over the Lions at Ford Field on Sunday.
“We got a great locker room. You keep guys like Anthony Barr and you have the kind of locker room [General Manager] Rick Spielman and [coach] Mike Zimmer have created here. People want to be with us. We have a great bond between our players and coaches. As ownership, we’re highly supportive of how things have been handled.”
Welcome to a three-game winning streak.
Three weeks ago, Diggs skipped a team meeting and a practice after an ugly 16-6 loss at Chicago. He was fined more than $200,000. Asked when he returned to practice whether reports of his wanting to be traded were true, he said, “There is truth to all rumors.”
But that’s all in the past. At least until the next bit of adversity presents another challenge.
Sunday, Diggs was targeted eight times as cohort Adam Thielen went down early because of a hamstring injury suffered on a 25-yard touchdown catch. Diggs caught all but one of those balls for 142 yards.
The one he didn’t catch went through his hands in the end zone on a perfectly placed over-the-shoulder ball thrown by Kirk Cousins.
“You mean the drop?” Diggs said when asked about the ball that should have given the Vikings a 35-24 lead but instead led to a missed 45-yard field-goal attempt by Dan Bailey.
“It was all me. Looking back on it, I stuttered my feet to try to not necessarily create separation but pause the defender so the ball wouldn’t hit him in the back. And I misjudged it. It stuck with me for a little while. It’s still with me.”
If Diggs is looking for ways to stay humble in light of his big game, he could note that Cousins could have nine touchdowns and no interceptions in his past two games if not for passes to Diggs. Cousins’ lone interception the past two games bounced off Diggs’ hands.
But Sunday was a day of celebration for the Vikings’ first division win this season. They scored touchdowns on six of their nine possessions that weren’t kneel-downs.
The Lions entered the game ranked third in the league in fewest opponent touchdown drives of 5 minutes or more (three). The Vikings hit them with two of them on back-to-back ones to end the first half and open the second half, including a 97-yarder that took 7:19 off the clock.
“That was one long drive,” said Diggs, who fumbled on the drive but was bailed out by teammate Alexander Mattison.
Diggs caught a 27-yarder on third-and-10. He had a 14-yarder on third-and-11. But no catch was bigger than the 66-yarder on second-and-5 from the Vikings 30-yard line with 3 minutes left, the Vikings ahead 35-30 and the Lions with two timeouts.
It started with offensive coordinator Kevin Stefankski having the courage to follow the game plan to throw deep if the Lions crowded the line of scrimmage late in a one-score game.
“It’s our four-minute offense, when we’re just trying to make them use timeouts,” Cousins said. “But you also realize there’s a chance you’ll be punting back to them, and they’ll have a chance to tie the game.”
With no safety help, Diggs went one-on-one with an open field ahead of him and a stunned defense in his wake.
“It’s a play we practice for that exact reason,” tight end Kyle Rudolph said. “It just shows the trust that Kevin has in Kirk and Diggsy to make a huge play. But it also takes trust in eight other guys to know we’re going to be able to protect that.”
Indeed. A strip-sack in that situation, and we’re all singing a sadder, madder tune this morning.
Diggs said everyone just did their job in what he called a true “team game.”
“I don’t call the plays,” he said, “but if I had to say anything, that was a great play call.”
Yessir, a lot can change in the NFL in 19 days.
Mark Craig is an NFL and Vikings Insider. Twitter: @markcraigNFL E-mail: email@example.com