EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. — It was only 16 months ago that the Vikings arrived in Cincinnati for a pair of joint practices with the Bengals before the teams played their 2016 preseason opener.
That was before Vikings wide receiver Adam Thielen became a national name by totaling 149 receptions, 2,128 yards and nine touchdowns over Minnesota's past 29 regular-season games.
But what was memorable for Thielen during those two practices was that a few Bengals defensive backs didn't want to go up against him in practice because they felt he wasn't a stiff enough challenge.
A pair of those cornerbacks are now banged up, as Adam Jones is on Injured Reserve with a groin issue, and Dre Kirkpatrick hasn't practiced yet this week because of a concussion.
Thielen said Thursday he won't take any motivation from what happened on those humid summer afternoons.
"No, I mean that has nothing to do with it honestly. That was a long time ago," Thielen said. "I don't think they meant anything by [it].
"Obviously, you want to play their best corners, so I'd love for those guys to play, but that's how this league works," Thielen added. "There's going to be injuries, and you have to just play against whoever is going to play."
After having a strong 2016 season, Thielen has been even better this year.
He is tied for third with 1,161 receiving yards and is seventh overall with 80 receptions. Thielen also has four touchdown catches, one off his career high.
Was Thielen underestimated by defenses last season?
"Probably, yeah," Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer said Thursday.
Although the teams saw each other a little more than a year ago, there is also some familiarity between the organizations because Zimmer was the Bengals Defensive Coordinator from 2008-13 before being hired as Minnesota's head coach.
"It's helped a little bit, I think, just kind of asking him why they're doing this on film or doing that," Thielen said. "I ask a few questions here and there, but at the same time, I'm sure they've switched up some things and are teaching things a little different. I think it helps a little bit.
"It's similar to what our defense does, so we've had practice going against it since training camp and things like that. At the same time, it's completely different players," Thielen added. "They're going to play things differently, and you've still got to beat the guy across from you. As much as you know the scheme and things like that, you've still got to beat the guy across from you."
Vikings defense thriving at U.S. Bank Stadium
Zimmer talked earlier this week about needing a loud and boisterous crowd Sunday against Cincinnati.
While it'd be easy to assume the Vikings play better at home than on the road, the stats back that up, especially for Minnesota's defense.
In six home games this year, the Vikings defense has held opposing offenses to an average of 11.45 points per game less than their seasonal average.
New Orleans, for example, is averaging 28.5 points per game but scored just 19 at U.S. Bank Stadium, a difference of 9.5 points. The Rams average 30.5 points per game but were held to just seven in Week 11, a whopping difference of 23.5 points per game.
The Vikings, who have not allowed an opponent to score 20 or more points at U.S. Bank Stadium in 2017, have held the Saints, Buccaneers, Lions, Packers, Ravens and Rams under their season averages when the teams visited Minnesota.
Vikings defensive end Danielle Hunter has an idea why those numbers stand out.
"A part of the reason is that the crowd helps us out," Hunter said. "There's not many stadiums that are as loud as our stadium … it puts that stress on the offense to communicate and all that.
"I don't think any stadium is as loud as ours," Hunter added. "We like that, Coach likes that, so we need it loud in there."
Linebacker Eric Kendricks joked that the loud crowd noise makes it tough for the Vikings defense to make audibles and adjustments.
Not that he'd have it any other way.
"I have no idea but I'm not complaining, for sure," Kendricks said when asked why Minnesota's defense has been so tough at home. "Part of it is that home-field advantage, but we take pride in that. I don't know the stats, but we take pride in that.
"It's hard to communicate and things like that," Kendricks later added. "It's definitely good for us, but bad for us, too. It's bittersweet. But I wouldn't change it at all."
The Bengals offense ranks 28th in the NFL at 17.4 points per game.
Focus, focus, focus
One of many areas of frustration from Sunday's loss was a multiple dropped passes by members of the Vikings offense.
A catch here or there might have made the difference in a 31-24 road loss to the Panthers.
As Minnesota prepares for the Bengals, Vikings wide receiver Stefon Diggs said his position group has turned the page from last weekend.
"(Defensive backs) get beat, they've got to forget about it fast," Diggs said. "For receivers, when things do happen that way, there's nothing you can do about it now, no reason to get down on yourself or kind of like dwell on it because more plays are going to come, especially at receiver. You've just got to make the next one, on the next opportunity you get, take full advantage.
"It's always the same reason. You took your eye off it/didn't look at it all the way in. You've been catching the ball your whole life," Diggs added. "There's guys with great hands that I know who dropped passes, but it does happen. You just want it to happen as [little] as possible."
View practice images from Thursday, December 14's practice at Winter Park.
For the Vikings: Riley Reiff (ankle), Kyle Rudolph (ankle), Mackensie Alexander (ribs) and Blake Bell (shoulder) did not participate.
Emmanuel Lamur (foot), Xavier Rhodes (hip), Jeremiah Sirles (knee), Mike Remmers (low back), Shamar Stephen (shoulder) and Pat Elflein (shoulder) were limited. Jerick McKinnon (shoulder), Adam Thielen (knee), Linval Joseph (knee) and David Morgan (concussion) were full participants.
For the Bengals: Vontaze Burfict (concussion), Kirkpatrick (concussion), Kevin Minter (hamstring) and Nick Vigil (ankle) did not participate. Darqueze Dennard (knee), Tyler Kroft (hamstring), Joe Mixon (concussion), Giovani Bernard (knee), Carlos Dunlap (chest), Cedric Ogbuehi (shoulder), Pat Sims (heel), Shawn Williams (hamstring) and Eric Winston (hip) were limited.