EAGAN — Adam Thielen broke his back making one of the best catches you will ever see in the NFL playoffs.
He jumped over star cornerback Marshon Lattimore and tumbled to the ground with the ball. And then with 1:47 remaining and his team trailing by one, he shrugged off Lattimore’s hands to reach up and grab a 19-yard first down.
The Minneapolis Miracle play went to Stefon Diggs but Adam Thielen played a massive role in the Vikings’ postseason victory over the New Orleans Saints two years ago.
In total Thielen has gone against the Saints three times in his career. He has 22 receptions on 26 targets for 334 yards and one touchdown. Last year with Kirk Cousins under center, Thielen pulled in seven receptions on seven targets for 103 yards.
In order to match offensive production against a Saints team that ranks third in the NFL in scoring, the Vikings will need that version of Thielen.
Since returning from a hamstring injury, he’s only caught three passes on seven targets for 27 yards and the passing offense.
“We’re excited to have him as a part of this attack,” offensive coordinator Kevin Stefanski. “I think the production will come as always anytime you’re coming off an injury like he was, I think he’s raring to go now. I do believe he looks great out here today, so we’ll see how the game unfolds. If it calls for a big day from him, I think he’ll be ready.”
Thielen sat out Week 17 with the rest of the starters so he will presumably be the closest to full strength that he’s been since getting hurt on a touchdown throw in the back of the end zone against the Detroit Lions. The last time he was on the field, Cousins targeted him four times with no completions.
The Pro Bowl receiver had one shot at making a catch on a deep ball down the sideline against the Packers but it bounced off his hands as he was falling to the ground. Thielen said last week that’s the type of play that he expects to make. On Thursday he said that’s the type of play his team will need.
“You have to make a couple plays that are maybe difficult plays and that usually gets you going and gets you fired up and gets things rolling,” Thielen said. “For us it usually comes down to making a play that maybe you’re not supposed to make…or a simple play and you make something happen with it. As an offense we talk about a lot, we need some momentum, we need some positive plays to get us rolling.”
The Saints’ passing defense is better now than the last two times Thielen has torched them. New Orleans has given up an 88.3 quarterback rating against and recently added former New York Giant Janoris Jenkins, who
“I think it’s just confidence,” Thielen said. “That group in general, they play with a lot of confidence, a lot of swagger, they’re playing at a high level across the board. They added some depth, they have a lot of guys with experience and they have a lot of talent. It will be a good test for us but when you’re in the playoffs you’re going to face good talent.”
In the two games since Thielen returned, the Vikings have not spread the ball around as effectively as they did during his absence. Veteran tight end Kyle Rudolph had just one catch against the Packers for seven yards.
“People don’t talk about it in the national media but guys like that are crucial to our offense,” Thielen said of Rudolph.
Over all the Vikings’ offense ranks among the best in the NFL but from Week 11 through Week 16 they were 25th in yards per play. Without a strong performance by Thielen and the offense distributing the ball effectively, the Vikings will have a tough time keeping up with Drew Brees and Co.