The Vikings held a three-point lead on the Arizona Cardinals and were facing a third-and-13 from their own 42-yard line on the opening drive of the third quarter Sunday.
The 66,801 who occupied U.S. Bank Stadium had been quieted by a lethargic opening-half performance from the home team and now it looked as if the ball would be going back to the Cardinals. Kirk Cousins, working from the shotgun, came under pressure and delivered a heave toward the near sideline.
It was the type of pass that most receivers would watch sail toward the turf and skipped out of bounds. Only, in this case, the intended target was Adam Thielen and if the ball is thrown anywhere near him he has a chance to make the catch.
Thielen dived for Cousins’ pass and managed to gain control as his elbow hit in bounds. Thielen’s body then rolled onto the Vikings sideline as officials signaled that he had made the catch. The Cardinals challenged the 13-yard completion with replays showing Thielen had made another phenomenal catch.
That reception changed the tone in the stadium and five plays later Thielen caught Cousins’ 13-yard pass for a touchdown to give the Vikings a 20-10 lead in what became a relatively easy 27-17 victory. So what did Thielen have to say about his latest great grab?
“It’s another example of Kirk just trusting me to go make a play,” Thielen said, deflecting as much credit as possible. “I felt like I made (the third-down catch), but when you go to the review, you just never really know. You never know how they’re going to look at it, how they’re going to interpret it.”
As remarkable as Thielen’s catch was — and as incredible as he has been all season — it has become difficult not to take Thielen’s heroics for granted. His chemistry with Cousins hasn’t only made him the Vikings’ top wide receiver, but it’s also turned him into one of the NFL’s best at the position.
Thielen finished Sunday’s game with 11 catches for 123 yards and a touchdown on 15 targets. The catch total was only Thielen’s third-highest total of the season — he had 14 against Buffalo and 12 against Green Bay — and his 123 yards also were only his third-best output behind his 135 against the Rams and 131 against the Packers. Thielen has 58 receptions for 712 yards and four touchdowns in six games.
That start puts him in elite company.
“I feel like I sound like a broken record, but it’s such a team stat,” Thielen said of his string of 100-yard games. “Obviously, they’re matching (Stefon) Diggs and letting me do my thing. When you have great players around you that’s the only way you can do those things. We have so many great players, great guys that are selfless and I love those guys. I appreciate them.”
Thielen has made a habit of making the absurd look easy and he’s doing it for a base salary of $3.9 million. He is the second year of a four-year, $19.2 million deal that began in 2017. The Vikings, who rewarded Diggs with a five-year, $72 million contract this summer that calls for $40 million in guarantees, almost certainly will do the same for Thielen this offseason. But, like Diggs, Thielen hasn’t said a word about being underpaid.
Thielen is as good at avoiding attention as he is at breaking free of defensive backs. His only flaw Sunday night have been his post-touchdown celebration dance. “The Dead Arm dance,” Thielen said when asked what he and his teammates were attempting to do in the end zone. “Everybody is doing it, it’s the cool thing.”
The Dead Arm dance comes from Thielen’s college days in Mankato and is pretty much what it sounds like. Let your arms go limp and then move about in what appears to be a less-than-confident manner. “We were talking about our signature dance moves and the Dead Arm dance is mine,” Thielen said, “so that was my dance, and then Diggs has his. When Kirk scored (on a third-quarter scramble), he did both of them combined. He was trying to get in on the party, which is fun.”
Mike Zimmer doesn’t care about Thielen, or anyone else’s dance moves, but he does care that he has a receiver who catches just about everything thrown his way.
“I know he doesn’t think there’s a ball he can’t catch,” the Vikings coach said. “That’s how he is in practice every day. He laid out in practice the other day and goes, ‘Why did I do that?’ Just one of those things. The kid has a great heart, he’s really tough kid. He comes over to me and talks to me during the game about stuff that’s going on and it’s always about, ‘These guys can’t guard me,’ and all the stuff like that. Adam is a heck of a football player and I’m glad he’s on our team.”