EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. — Stefon Diggs and Adam Thielen will trade any and all stats for Vikings wins.
So much was crystal clear during locker room sessions at Winter Park on Tuesday when Minnesota's players began prepping for their game Sunday at Jacksonville. The duo knows the Vikings (6-6) need to close the 2016 season with a streak similar to the one that began this year's slate, beginning against the Jaguars (2-10).
Diggs and Thielen could help spark that this weekend. They are tied for the fourth-most catches by a receiving duo in the NFL this season (127).
"I felt practice today had quite a bit of energy, a different pace to practice, which is a good thing," Thielen said of Minnesota's first session since falling 17-15 to Dallas in the absence of Head Coach Mike Zimmer because of an emergency eye surgery the previous night. "We know our backs are against the wall but we're going to take it one play at a time and one game at a time and try to keep getting better."
Thursday's marked the first NFL game that Zimmer, who launched his career with the Cowboys in 1994, has ever missed. He resumed work activities on Monday, and players came back into the fold after receiving a little extra time that followed playing three games in a 12-day span.
Diggs has career highs of 75 receptions for 806 yards and has two touchdowns. Thielen has career bests of 52 catches for 657 yards and three scores.
The duo has the most catches this season for any receiver pairing that does not include at least one first- or second-round pick. Diggs, a fifth-round selection in 2015, and Thielen, who joined the Vikings as an undrafted free agent, are tied with Saints 2016 second-rounder Michael Thomas (69-831-7) and 2014 first-round selection Brandin Cooks (58-809-6).
Raiders Amari Cooper (68-981-4) and Michael Crabtree (67-785-7) lead top tandems with 135 catches. Oakland selected Cooper with the fourth overall pick in 2015 and signed Crabtree, who was picked 10th overall by San Francisco in 2009, last season.
View images from the Vikings Tuesday, December 6 practice at Winter Park.
Broncos Demaryius Thomas (66-799-5) and Emmanuel Sanders (64-858-4) rank second with 130 receptions. Thomas was a first-round pick in 2010, and Sanders signed with Denver in 2014 after starting his career as a third-round pick by Pittsburgh in 2010.
Packers Jordy Nelson (69-872-10) and Davante Adams (59-793-8) rank third with 128 receptions. Nelson has been in Green Bay since 2008 when he was tabbed in the second round. Adams was tabbed in the second round in 2014.
Diggs and Thielen could each reach the exclusive 1,000-yard marks with strong finishes down the stretch. Diggs needs to average 49.3 yards over the course of the final four games this season, and Thielen needs to average 85.8 in the same span.
What would 1,000 yards mean to Diggs?
"Just another thing, I guess. I would be happier with winning," Diggs said. "Getting a thousand yards, maybe I'll smile a little more."
He did correctly answer "Sidney Rice" when asked about the last Vikings player to reach that milestone in a season.
Rice recorded 1,312 yards in 2009. Before that, it was Nate Burleson, who posted 1,006 in 2004.
Randy Moss and Cris Carter were the last Vikings duo to cross the threshold in the same season (2000). Moss had 1,437 that season, to go along with Carter's 1,274.
Moss had six straight quad-yardage seasons to launch his career. He started by setting a rookie record of 1,313 in 1998. Carter hit the mark in eight straight seasons in Minnesota (1993-2000).
Thielen said Diggs is "one of the hardest-working guys we have on our team."
"In the offseason, he's busting his tail, and there's a lot of stuff that people don't see," Thielen said. "I think he's been so successful because of the way he works and the way he goes about his business. He takes every play in practice as if it's a game, and I think that's why he's been so successful."
Backing his brother
Diggs said he used the extended weekend to rest and visit his younger brother, Trevon Diggs, a freshman on the Alabama football team.
Trevon returned three punts for 90 yards, setting up a field goal with a 47-yarder and a touchdown with a 36-yard return. He also forced a fumble during kick return coverage as the top-ranked Crimson Tide cruised past the Gators 54-16 in the SEC Championship.
"I got to see my little brother play. It was my first time seeing him in like eight months, so I was excited," Stefon said. "He had a nice little hit in the game and I'm like, 'OK, you're getting a little tough on me. I'm getting scared now.'
"He was a little shifty out there," Stefon added. "My brother is actually taller than me, so to see him get all shifty in a game was a proud moment for me."
Rest and reflection
The Vikings suffered costly penalties against the Cowboys. Minnesota was flagged eight times for a total of 57 yards. The infractions included five calls against the offensive line, including four pre-snap penalties and two that were in the red zone.
The first — called on Anthony Harris — forced Minnesota to settle for a field goal after starting the possession at the Dallas 19. The second — called on Jeremiah Sirles — moved the Vikings game-tying two-point conversion attempt from the Cowboys 2 to the 7.
Pat Elflein also was flagged for holding on third-and-inches play from the Dallas 21.
"(The time off) was much needed. There were a lot of things in that game that did not go our way, (things) that we did to ourselves, and a lot of guys had time to reflect on some things," Boone said. "It's one of those situations where you're so frustrated because it's things we're doing to ourselves, but at the same time you have to learn and grow, and this is the time where you're either going to take a step forward or take a step back."
Boone said the Vikings know that their margin for error is small.
"You can't lose any more games," Boone said. "We've got ourselves in a pickle now, and if you want to go to the playoffs then you have to win."