EAGAN, Minn. – Adam Thielen will miss the Border Battle for the first time since he joined the Vikings roster as a special teamer and reserve receiver in 2014.
Thielen was placed on Injured Reserve because of an ankle injury and underwent surgery this week ahead of Minnesota (7-8) visiting Green Bay (12-3) on Sunday Night Football.
He won't get to play at Lambeau Field, the site of his first four career catches (2014), a 67-yard run on a fake punt (2015 finale), his career-best 202 yards (2016) and a pair of 12-reception days (2016 and 2018).
The Vikings know they have big shoes to fill.
"Yeah, we'll miss Adam. He's a leader, and because he's such a great leader, he's prepared K.J. [Osborn], prepared Dede [Westbrook], prepared Ihmir Smith-Marsette," Offensive Coordinator Klint Kubiak said. "He's a very unselfish teammate because of the way he is, and now those other guys are going to have a chance to have better success. We will miss him, and now we're counting on the next ones to step up."
Justin Jefferson, who ranks second in the NFL with 1,451 receiving yards, fifth with 97 catches and is tied for sixth with nine touchdowns, said "it's definitely tough to replace him."
"But the guys on this team, on this receiver corps, we're definitely confident in," Jefferson said. "We've been confident in K.J. all year, Ihmir stepping up to the plate, Dede stepping up to the plate, so we're confident in the guys we have on the team."
There's a particular spot where the Vikings have missed Thielen the most.
Prior to the initial ankle injury, early in Week 13 at Detroit, the Vikings scored touchdowns on 23 of 34 trips to the red zone (67.6 percent).
Since he left that game after his first catch, Minnesota has scored on nine of 17 trips inside an opponent's 20-yard line. That's just 52.9 percent of the time.
Thielen has 24 touchdown catches over the past two seasons, with 22 of those being 20 or fewer yards.
"He's a magnet when we get down there – I always tell him that," running back Dalvin Cook said. "The ball always seems to find him in the end zone. We're going to miss that in the red zone. That's why in the NFL it's a 'next-guy-up' mentality. You've got to have some younger guys step up. We'll have some guys make some plays that nobody thinks are going to make plays. So we've got to have some younger guys step up and make some plays in the shoes of Adam.
"Thoughts to my brother, prayers to my brother, hope he heals up good. Hope he gets everything intact and gets right," Cook added. "Since I got here, he's been a true brother – the true meaning of a brother. Not even football related, just being there for me. So I'm going to do the same thing for him. Whatever he needs."
Here are all the ways to catch the action, a synopsis of the series history and a key topic addressed this week by Kubiak, Co-Defensive Coordinator Adam Zimmer and Special Teams Coordinator Ryan Ficken. (Assistant Head Coach/Co-Defensive Coordinator Andre Patterson is recovering from COVID-19).
TV: NBC (KARE 11 in the Twin Cities)
Kickoff: 7:20 p.m. (CT)
Play-by-Play: Mike Tirico
Analyst: Cris Collinsworth
Sideline: Kathryn Tappen
Because this game is a national broadcast, fans everywhere can watch the game on their iOS mobile devices with the Vikings app or Vikings mobile site (Safari browser only). The Yahoo! Sports app for smartphones and tablets offers another method for viewing live local and prime-time NFL games.
View photos of Vikings players from practice on Dec. 30 at the TCO Performance Center.
Radio: KFAN (100.3-FM), KTLK (1130-AM) and the five-state Vikings Radio Network
Radio Pregame Show: Hosted by Mike Mussman (5 p.m.)
Play-by-Play: Paul Allen
Analyst: Pete Bercich
Sideline reporters: Greg Coleman and Ben Leber
Play-by-Play: Ryan Radtke
Analyst: Mike Golic
Minnesota: Sirius 81, XM 226, SXM App 820
Green Bay: Sirius 85, XM 225, SXM App 811
National: Sirius 88, XM 88, SXM App 88
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Look back at photos over the course of time featuring games between the Vikings and the Packers.
The Vikings have a 56-63-3 record against the Packers, including a 1-1 mark in postseason games.
Minnesota is 3-3-1 at Lambeau Field under Head Coach Mike Zimmer (since 2014). The Packers are 49-13-1 in regular-season home games in that timeframe.
Kubiak on the potential boost with Cook returning:
"He brings such a big kick to our team and offense – emotionally, physically — so it's great to have him back on our team, especially having him practice, as well. He's just a guy that we count on to be our rock. To get him back means a whole lot to us, and it also means everybody has to step up. I know he's going to be playing at his best, but we all have a sour taste in our mouth for how last week went. We all have to step up."
Zimmer on the Vikings plans without Nick Vigil:
"Well, we're still sorting that out. Nick has kind of been my security blanket throughout the year for whenever something happened to anybody. We're sorting that out. We've got another day at practice, and we'll see and make a decision on that tomorrow."
Ficken on techniques special teamers can use when blocking for and covering kicks and punts:
"We've got to make sure we get there fast so when we do have our weight over our pads and our feet are set, we keep the feet moving. We don't want to be locked in on the grass because then you have no leverage, and when they knock you back, you won't have the base to fight them. We've got to make sure we keep good feet movement.
"We talk about blocking with our feet and hands so that's low pad level, keeping the butt down, and maybe should we strike and block and keep them nice and close. We don't want to get that separation because that's what the defenders want. We want them nice and close, keep our feet moving and keep the hands nice and inside and finish our blocks. We've got to make sure we're taking those short strides. We talk about that all of the time, 'Don't take the long strides and then you're going to be off balance and out of control.' "