EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — How fast can life in the NFL change?
A week ago, Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins was offering wide receiver Adam Thielen a public apology for getting him the ball only two times for 6 yards in a loss at Chicago. Another wide receiver, Stefon Diggs, decided to stay away from the team facility for a few days because of his frustration with the Vikings going to a run-first scheme under Gary Kubiak and Kevin Stefanski.
By halftime of the Vikings’ 28-10 victory over the feeble New York Giants on Sunday at MetLife Stadium, Cousins had a season-high 278 yards passing, Thielen had a season-best six receptions for 121 yards and a touchdown and Diggs had, well, his involvement remained a work in progress (two catches for 24 yards).
Diggs added a 20-yard reception in the fourth quarter to finish with three catches for 44 yards, Thielen ended up at seven catches for 130 yards and two scores and Cousins completed 22 of 27 passes for 306 yards and the two TDs to Thielen. It was Cousins’ first 300-yard passing game since a 24-17 victory last Nov. 25 over Green Bay at U.S. Bank Stadium. That was nine games ago and also marked the last time Thielen had more than 100 yards receiving.
The Giants’ inability to stop the pass and the run didn’t hurt matters, but this was the exact type of game the Vikings needed after a week of drama that centered around a unit that isn’t even supposed to be the key to this team. Did this signify a turnaround for an offense that was held to 222 yards in a 16-6 loss to the Bears? Probably not, considering Chicago’s defense can be dominant and the Giants defense belongs in the XFL.
But there was little doubt that coach Mike Zimmer’s mandate to run first underwent some tweaks this week at TCO Performance Center. It helps that the Giants’ pass defense was ranked 25th in the NFL, having given up 279.5 yards per game through four weeks.
Cousins’ second pass of the game resulted in a 16-yard gain by Diggs. Thielen caught a 13-yard pass two plays later for another first down and the Vikings ended the drive with a 31-yard field goal from Dan Bailey. They would never trail and should have led by far more than 18-7 at the halftime. Two of those points came from a safety forced when linebacker Anthony Barr tackled New York running back Jon Hilliman for a safety after Dalvin Cook had lost a fumble at the Giants 1 following a 19-yard gain.
The Cousins-Thielen connection got going in the second quarter when the receiver went over Giants cornerback Grant Haley in the front corner of the end zone to snag a 15-yard touchdown. On the following series, there was a 28-yard completion to Thielen, followed by 44-yard and 11-yard completions on the series that ended with Cook’s fumble.
Thielen added a 9-yard touchdown catch in the third quarter to put the Vikings up by 15.
There will be no apology to Thielen this week and there never should be again. What Cousins needs to do is what happened on Sunday. He needs to get the dynamic receiver the football. That also will save Thielen the problem of trying to shoot down talk of frustration in the Vikings locker room, especially when everyone knows that is exactly what existed.
Thielen might have wanted to ignore it but what he couldn’t deny was Diggs’ absence from Vikings meetings and practices last Monday and Wednesday. That reportedly cost Diggs in excess of $200,000 of fines. While the financial loss might have been substantial, Zimmer decided the punishment would not include a suspension for what turned into a victory on Sunday over the Giants.
Diggs might not have played a major role in the win, but it’s much tougher to pout about how you are being used when your team is winning. The Vikings did exactly that on Sunday — granted against a bad team — but these days they will take what they can get.