Since coming back from a hamstring injury that kept him out for five games, the first missed games in his NFL career, Vikings wide receiver Adam Thielen hasn’t looked quite in sync yet — catching just three passes for 27 yards over two games, including no receptions on Monday night in a loss to the Packers.
But Thielen had positive news for the Vikings and their fans as he headed into the regular-season finale against the Bears on Sunday and then a wild-card matchup in the playoffs next week.
“This is the best I have felt [physically] for a long time,” the Pro Bowl wideout said. “I feel honestly better than I did when I first entered the league. For me, I just have to make sure I stay on top of it and just prepare and when you have opportunities to make plays, you have to make them.”
For Thielen, who went undrafted out of Minnesota State Mankato and worked his way to being one of the best pass catchers in the NFL, this is just another challenge to overcome.
“It’s tough, but at the end of the day it’s adversity, it’s how you respond to things like that,” Thielen said. “I have tried to have a really good, positive attitude. I’ve tried to learn from it, not get frustrated, not get negative, things like that. Obviously every day is a learning experience and I have learned a lot from this and I’m going to try to use it with me going forward.”
Through six weeks, before he injured his hamstring, Thielen had caught 26 passes for 366 yards and five scores, which was tied for the second-most touchdowns among all receivers.
He said that although he has struggled since coming back, he can still play at his highest level.
“I have a lot of confidence. I’m a competitor,” Thielen said. “I want to be out there, and I want to make plays. It’s frustrating when you don’t feel like you help the team like you should, but at the end of the day there’s going to be ups and downs and it’s how you react.”
Does he think defenses have figured out how to stop him?
“I have no idea. For me there is so many factors in football, that’s why it’s the greatest team game,” he said. “There are so many things that lead into having success, just like when you have a ton of success and when you have no success, it’s not just you. For me I’m just going to focus on what I can do to get better and just let it all play out.”
When it came to the Vikings’ loss Monday night against the Packers, in which their 199 yards was their lowest total in four seasons, Thielen thought Green Bay found a scheme that worked and the Vikings couldn’t figure it out in time.
“They found some things that we weren’t able to handle, and they just kept doing it over and over until we could beat it,” he said. “When you have a front seven like they have, and they have guys on the back end that are sound and aren’t going to make mistakes, you can play some pretty good football. Credit to them, they played really well on Monday night and we didn’t execute and they did.”
Offense ready for playoffs
Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins had his two worst games this season against the Packers — combining to complete 30 of 63 passes (47.6%) for 352 yards with two touchdowns and three interceptions in two losses.
But Thielen believes the Vikings quarterback is ready to show what he’s capable of in leading this offense into the playoffs.
“Well, he has done that his whole career, when people write him off and things like that, that’s when he plays his best football,” Thielen said. “We have a ton of confidence in him, the coaches do too, we’re excited to get to the playoffs and show what this offense can really do.”
He added that much like his own struggles, Cousins’ performance against Green Bay wasn’t just about the quarterback’s play.
“There are so many factors that lead to having success; at the quarterback position you have to have receivers that make plays, you have to have a running game, you have to have guys blocking for you, things like that,” Thielen said. “For him, we weren’t on all cylinders. One question we had in the offensive meeting room was: ‘Did anyone feel like they played really well?’ And I don’t think anyone could say they played their best game.”
The fact is that the Vikings’ ultimate goal, winning a Super Bowl, is still on the table. And Thielen said that’s what matters most, no matter how many tough losses they have had, they will get the chance to prove how good they are when it matters most.
“When you get to the postseason every team is really good, defenses are good, offenses are good, special teams are good,” he said. “It’s going to be a tough matchup, no matter who we’ve got. We’re going to have to go on the road, obviously. But that’s why we play this game. We play it go and play those tough games. We play it to make the playoffs and show teams what we’ve got. Obviously that’s goal No. 1, to make it, and now we have to put the work in and get prepared.”
• Vikings coach Mike Zimmer on facing former Vikings first-round pick Cordarrelle Patterson, who leads the NFL with 825 kick return yards and one score for the Bears: “He’s got great speed. He has great size. He runs real hard, really physical runner. Can really accelerate through creases.”
• One reason the Bears might not want to win on Sunday is that they are tied with five other teams at 7-8 and a loss would help their draft position.
• Vikings running back Dalvin Cook was struggling before he injured his shoulder in Week 15. Through Week 10, Cook was averaging 99.1 yards rushing per game. But since Week 11, he had averaged just 36 yards per game.
• Do the Vikings have to worry about Bears defensive end Khalil Mack? He has faced the Vikings three times since being traded from Oakland to Chicago, and he has 2½ sacks, three QB hits, two forced fumbles and a fumble recovery in those three games.
• The Vikings are slated to have the 24th overall pick in the 2020 NFL draft. They traded their fifth-round pick to Baltimore for kicker Kaare Vedvik and they have an additional pick from Miami in the seventh round from trading Danny Isidora.
• Former Gophers head coaches Jerry Kill and Tracy Claeys will work together for the first time in four years Tuesday when Virginia Tech faces Kentucky in the Belk Bowl on ESPN. Kill is working as special assistant to head coach Justin Fuente while Claeys is working as the linebackers coach.
• The Twins lost C.J. Cron and Jonathan Schoop to Detroit. Both will make $6.1 million for the Tigers compared with $4.8 million for Cron last season and $7.5 million for Schoop.
• Former Gophers standout Jordan Murphy is averaging 9.2 points and 6.6 rebounds for the Iowa Wolves in the NBA G League.