MINNEAPOLIS — With just a little more than a minute left in the first half, it felt like the momentum was going to swing one way or another between the Vikings and Saints.
Unfortunately for Minnesota, it was the start of a sequence when control slipped out of the Vikings grasp in what became a 30-20 Saints victory.
The Vikings led 13-10 and were in the red zone when Thielen took a screen pass and tried to dart upfield for extra yards. But the ball popped loose after Thielen was hit by a pair of defenders, and New Orleans cornerback Marshon Lattimore scooped it up and ran the other way.
The Saints scored a touchdown two plays later with 30 seconds left before halftime, beginning a string of 20 unanswered points. And instead of having a potential double-digit lead [and the ball to open the second half], the Vikings never led again.
"That's probably the biggest reason we lost the game," Thielen said. "When you have the momentum going into the half, you're going to score points and get a chance to get the ball in the second half.
"That's a huge play. It can't happen. I'm going to take ownership of it," Thielen added. "I'm not happy about it, but I'm going to try to keep doing what I can do to help this team win. That obviously wasn't it."
Added Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer: "It was disappointing because we had a chance to score there. If we score there … we go up, who knows, seven or 10 points up."
Thielen had seven catches for 103 yards and a touchdown, which marked the eight straight game that he's gone over the century mark. That ties an NFL record for the most consecutive games with 100-plus yards in a season with former Lions wide receiver Calvin Johnson.
Thielen's teammates were quick to point out that play didn't define the game.
"Adam didn't lose the game; we lost the game as a unit," said Vikings wide receiver Stefon Diggs, who had 10 catches for 119 yards and a touchdown. "Adversity is going to hit, and things come up … it's how you fight back and answer.
"I have 100-percent faith in him. I don't even think about that play because he makes too many [good ones]," Diggs added. "I am behind him all the way."
Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins said he told Thielen: "You're the best player on our team. It happens. Let's have the best second half you've ever had."
The Saints returned Thielen's fumble to the 33-yard line, but started the drive at the 18-yard line after Vikings wide receiver Laquon Treadwell was flagged for an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty after the play for slamming his helmet to the ground.
"There were some uncharacteristic things by a lot of us out there," Treadwell said. "Even my penalty on the sideline … it's an emotional game, and I have to control my emotions and play better on the field."
Trailing 17-13, Minnesota opened the third quarter by moving the ball to the Vikings 45-yard line before facing a fourth-and-1.
The Vikings elected to go for it, but Treadwell couldn't come up with Cousins' pass over the middle that would have gone for a first down.
"That was a good play by [Lattimore]," Treadwell said. "A good play by him … he gets paid, too, and he made a good play.
"Initially, I won the route, but he made a good play," Treadwell said.
New Orleans took advantage of the short field for a field goal and a 20-13 lead.
Still only down by a touchdown, the Vikings looked for a game-tying drive but Cousins was intercepted as Saints cornerback P.J. Williams returned the turnover 45 yards for a touchdown.
Cousins looked to hit Diggs on a crossing route on second-and-8 from his own 44-yard line before the interception.
"It was all on me," Diggs said. "I was trying to leave him, and I should have done what I'm coached to do instead of stopping. The guy got an easy pick … touchdown.
"If we can get that play back, maybe the game would be different," Diggs added. "Things like that will rack my brain until we see them again."
View game action images as the Vikings take on the Saints under the lights for Sunday Night Football at U.S. Bank Stadium.
Cousins said: "It was an unfortunate play. That is just how the game is played … you can do a lot of good things but we define critical errors as turnovers, fumbles, interceptions, occasionally a sack. Critical errors really end up determining outcomes of games and seasons."
Williams' pick-6 gave the Saints a 27-13 lead, and Minnesota trailed by double digits the rest of the way.
New Orleans had one turnover on the day, an interception by Vikings safety Harrison Smith off Drew Brees.
It was the Saints quarterback's first interception of the season, and it came just before the drive that ended with Thielen's fumble.
Right when it seemed the Vikings were going to grab momentum and take control, it all slithered away.
"We have confidence that we're a really good football team. You can't make mistakes in this league and win, especially in critical situations when you have the ball in the red zone," Thielen said. "Obviously, I'm going to think about that one for a while. I'm definitely disappointed in myself.
"I'm not surprised it got away. When you play a really good football team and make mistakes, that's what happens," Thielen later added. "Obviously, we were just playing ball and trying to go on to the next play. I thought we did a good job of that, but you can't make mistakes against a really good football team."