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McFeely: Record-setting Thielen proves he's human as Vikings unravel

Mike McFeely

MINNEAPOLIS — Getting into the NFL record book was no consolation for Adam Thielen. The Minnesota Vikings lost and a miscue he made played a big part.

The game Sunday night, Oct. 28, started to unravel when Thielen fumbled inside the New Orleans 20-yard line late in the second quarter, a mistake compounded by a boneheaded penalty on fellow Minnesota Vikings receiver Laquon Treadwell.

Thielen, the golden child of Minnesota sports because of his hometown and background, is human.

Who knew?

"That can't happen. I'm not happy about it," Thielen said. "I'm going to keep doing whatever I can to help this team win and obviously that wasn't good enough."

Thielen's rare miscue blunted a Vikings drive that might've given Minnesota a 20-10 halftime lead. Instead, the Saints capitalized with an Alvin Kamara touchdown run with 30 seconds left in the second quarter and went to the half with a 17-13 lead and all the momentum.

The Vikings could never regain it. The Saints rolled to a 30-20 victory at U.S. Bank Stadium.

"We're a really good football team, but you can't make mistakes in this league and win. Especially in critical situations when you have the ball in the red zone. I'm going to think about that one for awhile and I'm definitely disappointed in myself," Thielen said.

A game that was celebrated as a rematch of the Minneapolis Miracle, the Vikings' playoff victory that vaulted them to the NFC Championship game last January, instead turned into the Minneapolis Mess.

You'd think when Kirk Cousins appeared to lose a fumble in the third quarter, but a replay showed he was down before he lost the ball, that'd be a break. Instead, Cousins turned it into catastrophe. He threw a horrible interception four plays later that was returned for a touchdown by New Orleans cornerback P.J. Williams.

Remember when it looked like the Vikings might take a 20-10 into halftime? Yeah, with 5:58 in the third quarter it was the Saints who were leading 27-13.

And now you have to wonder just how good this Minnesota team is and whether it has the goods to make the playoffs and, if so, how far it can advance. This was touted as a Super Bowl-ready team after the Vikings paid $84 million to attract Cousins in free agency and now they are 4-3-1 halfway through the season.

"We're not getting discouraged by this by any means. Coach (Mike Zimmer) made a really good point and everybody is believing it: We're a really good football team," Thielen said. "Really good football teams bounce back and go to work and I have all the confidence in the world in these guys in this locker room that we're going to shake this one off and keep fighting."

Their record, though, shows the Vikings are just above average. That's why Thielen setting a record that's stood since 1961 was a nice, but distant, backstory.

The Detroit Lakes, Minn., and Minnesota State Mankato product finished with seven catches for 103 yards, giving Thielen eight straight games at the start of the season with 100 or more receiving yards. It broke a record set by Charly Hennigan of the Houston Oilers.

That is a remarkable accomplishment for, repeat after me, a player who played at a NCAA Division II school on a $500 scholarship who went undrafted by an NFL team.

Thielen caught 1-yard touchdown pass from Cousins in the fourth quarter, but it an anti-climactic period at the end of an ugly sentence. The Vikings were down by 17 points at the time.

Asked how he felt about the record, Thielen said: "Not good. I think I've said for eight weeks in a row that 100 yards doesn't mean anything unless you're winning games, unless you're helping the team win. I didn't do that tonight."

Thielen started like he was going to break Hennigan's record in the first half. He caught a 14-yard pass on Minnesota's first play from scrimmage. He made a circus catch over Williams for a first down on the same possession. He was the recipient of a trick play when Cousins hit him for 28 yards on a flea flicker on the second play of the second quarter.

Thielen's 15-yard catch midway through the second quarter was his 71st of the season, breaking Julio Jones' NFL record for most receptions in the first 8 games of a season. Jones had 70 through eight games in 2015.

Then came the fumble after a short pass from Cousins. Saints linebacker Alex Anzalone hit Thielen while he was twisting for extra yardage and New Orleans cornerback Marshon Lattimore scooped up the ball and returned it to the Minnesota 33. Treadwell, the disappointing 2016 first-round draft pick, slammed his helmet to the turf to draw a 15-yard unsportsmanlike conduct penalty. That advanced the ball to the Vikings 18 and the Saints scored two plays later.

Thielen, characteristically a good talker with the media even after Minnesota losses, was thoroughly disappointed after the game.

"Adam didn't lose the game. We lost the game as a unit," receiver Stefon Diggs said. "Throughout the game, adversity is going to hit. Something's going to happen. Things always come up. It's how you battle back, it's how you fight back and answer after adversity hits. I have 100 percent faith in him. I don't even think about that play because he makes too many."

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