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*EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. — *When the Vikings and Saints met up in Week 1, Minnesota’s offense churned out 10 plays that went for 20 yards or more.
Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs did most of the damage to the New Orleans defense.
Thielen had chunk plays of 44, 35, 27 and 24 yards through the air and led all receivers with nine catches for 157 yards. Diggs, meanwhile, had receptions of 30 and 20 yards as he totaled seven catches for 93 yards and two touchdowns.
The duo, which tallied 250 total receiving yards (their highest combined total of the season), offered their thoughts on their performances from four months ago.
“I think there’s a lot of different reasons (why we were successful). Obviously it was early on in the season, so there were some communication things early that probably helped us,” Thielen said. “And then I think earlier in the season, not only were they trying to get into things and figure out their identity, so were we.
“We’re a totally different offense now than we were in Week 1,” Thielen said. “I don’t think it’s an advantage or disadvantage, I think both sides are playing a lot different football and a lot better football than Week 1.”
Added Diggs: “That was the first game of the season – that was like a hundred years ago. I would say just preparation … as far as trying to replicate it going into this next game, it’s new things going on out there. They’re a different team. That was the first game of the season for us, as well; we’re a different team, as well. So I’m not really trying to replicate. I’m just trying to do my job, whatever it takes to get this W. So however it shakes out, as long as we win, I don’t care.”
The 341 net passing yards allowed by the Saints defense was their third-highest of the season.
New Orleans allowed 224.8 passing yards per game this season, which ranked 15th in the NFL. That was an improvement from a unit that ranked last or next-to-last in each of the past two seasons.
A big reason for New Orleans’ success was the play of rookie cornerback Marshon Lattimore, the 11th overall pick in the 2017 NFL Draft.
Lattimore tallied five interceptions in 2017, which was tied with seven players, including Vikings safety Harrison Smith, for the fifth-most in the league. Lattimore’s five picks led the Saints, and one of them was a 27-yard interception return for a touchdown in Week 6 against Detroit.
Thielen and Diggs offered praise for a cornerback and a defense they know is much improved from the Week 1 matchup.
“He’s earned his respect this year; as far as his first year, he’s definitely done some great things,” Diggs said. “Them as a whole, they’ve made a lot of plays. They’ve got a bunch of interceptions; they get a lot of turnovers. So as far as them as a whole, not just him, they have a good group. But he is having a good year.”
Added Thielen: “He’s a good player. He’s physical, can run with anybody, he’s playing with a lot of confidence right now and has great ball skills. He’s pretty much got everything you need to be a really good corner in this league.”
Time will tell if Thielen and Diggs can have similar success in the Vikings playoff opener.
But after a long and grueling season, the pair of wide receivers are happy to get the chance to show their stuff in the playoffs.
“It’s win-or-go-home. I would say that’s the biggest difference between regular season and postseason,” Diggs said. “Regular season, you can come back on the next day or come back Sunday and have corrections, and hopefully you’ll play better the next game or tidy up those things.
“But you’ve had all year to do that. We’ve corrected the little things, we’ve moved forward, and we overcame adversity,” Diggs added. “And this is in the postseason where all those mistakes that you corrected, you don’t want them to happen again. You want to be hitting all across the board, because there’s a small margin for error.”
A proud big brother
There’s no doubt Diggs was glued to his television Monday night when Alabama and Georgia met up in the College Football Playoff National Championship.
His younger brother, Trevon, is a sophomore wide receiver and punt returner for the Crimson Tide.
The Vikings wide receiver said he was a proud big brother after Alabama rallied for a dramatic 26-23 overtime win to claim the national title. Trevon Diggs had five punt returns for 38 yards in the victory.
“It was exciting. You know, I’m happy as hell for my little brother,” Diggs said. “It felt like I played for Alabama. But I was just happy for him – it’s a special moment, especially that my family was there supporting him and stuff like that. It was good for him.”
Diggs was asked about the possibility of each brother potentially winning a championship in the coming month.
“We’ll talk about that in a couple weeks,” Diggs quipped.
Easton on the mend
Vikings left guard Nick Easton, who suffered a season-ending ankle injury in Week 16 at Green Bay, spoke briefly in the locker room Wednesday.
Easton called his injury “pretty unfortunate,” but said he has faith in his teammates to make a deep postseason run.
“These guys have been working hard all year, and they’re excited to step up and have a role,” Easton said of the offensive line depth. “I’m happy for those guys that they’ll get a chance to do that and show what they’ve got.”
Easton said he will “try to do as much as I can” in terms of helping teammates in meetings.
For the Vikings: Shamar Stephen (ankle) and Terence Newman (foot) were limited. Kyle Rudolph (ankle), C.J. Ham (neck), Anthony Harris (knee), Xavier Rhodes (foot) and Pat Elflein (shoulder) were full participants.
For the Saints: Brandon Coleman (neck) did not participate. Michael Hoomanawanui (back), Terron Armstead (thigh), Trey Hendrickson (ankle), Sheldon Rankins (ankle), P.J. Williams (ankle), Cameron Jordan (knee) and David Onyemata (thumb) were limited.