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Pair of Clutch Plays Crucial for Vikings 1st-Team Offense

EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. — Jerick McKinnon's longest run against Cincinnati showed up as a 10-yard gain in the box score.

And Adam Thielen had just one reception for 22 yards against the Bengals in Friday night's preseason opener.

Both plays were instrumental in helping the Vikings first-team offense keep their second series alive,leading to an eventual touchdown.

With the Vikings facing second-and-12 at their own 2-yard line, McKinnon ran left but was met by a handful of Bengals a few yards deep in the end zone. He quickly scooted back to his right, found daylight and raced up the field for 10 yards, snagging a first-down reception on the next play.

"I knew I was in the end zone but didn't know how far (back) I was," McKinnon said. "I was like, 'Dang, I've got to find a way to get out of here.'

"I was able to cut back and have some open space and get it out of the end zone," he added. "There's things to take from that, I'm just glad I didn't get a safety and was able to make a positive play out of it."

The Vikings soon faced a third-and-7 from their own 18 when quarterback Teddy Bridgewater connected with Thielen down the middle for a 22-yard strike and a first down.

"I just had an opportunity, and Teddy threw a great ball," Thielen said. "It's one of those things where you've got to come down with it if he's going to throw it to you.

"For some reason, I kind of figured it was coming to me, and he put it in a good spot, so it was pretty hard to drop it."

Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer said Bridgewater's clutch throw was an example of his growth from the offseason.

"I don't know if Teddy makes that throw a year ago," Zimmer said. "He throws it into tight coverage, a tight window, and we pick up the third down [conversion], the first down.

"But yeah, Adam is a guy that goes in there and does a lot of good things," he added.

The Vikings capped off the 96-yard drive four plays later when Bridgewater delivered a perfect deep ball to Charles Johnson for a 49-yard touchdown.

After struggling on their first drive, McKinnon said he was glad to see the offense regroup for the first points of the game.

"We come out slow and went three-and-out on the first series," McKinnon said. "We were able to get something happening on the second series, and Teddy threw a good ball to Charles Johnson.

"It was good to get some points," he added. "There are good things and bad things to take away from it."

Highlight also has value on film

One of the brightest highlights from Friday's game was the 49-yard touchdown pass from Bridgewater to Johnson.

In addition to seven points and the first score of the preseason, the play could have a hidden value on game film, especially if joined by a few more deep completions in the remaining three preseason games.

"When we play the Tennessee Titans, they're going to watch the preseason games," Johnson said. "Some guys will discount it because it is the preseason and you're not showing everything, but it's still out there playing football. Those guys are in the NFL and out there for a reason."

Success by the Vikings on deep plays could prompt opponents to be a little more hesitant in crowding the line of scrimmage to stop Adrian Peterson and could also create larger windows for intermediate pass routes.

"I think it helps a lot to stretch the field," Johnson said. "It makes guys not want to sit on us as easily, knowing that we've got some deep threats out there that we're going to continue to work on it, continue to build and progress. It's going to help us tremendously."

One step at a time

Michael Griffin said during the offseason he was taking copious amounts of notes to get up to speed with Zimmer's complex defense.

Griffin, a veteran safety who spent the first nine years of his career in Tennessee, signed with the Vikings as a free agent this offseason.

The two-time Pro Bowler played roughly a quarter of Minnesota's defensive snaps on Friday, with the highlight being a pass batted down at the line of scrimmage.

Griffin said he's becoming more and more comfortable with Minnesota's scheme, although he's still jotting down plenty of notes in meetings.

"I'm settling in but still have to take notes," Griffin said. "I'm learning different positions here and there so you have to know the whole ins and outs.

"Right now I'm just trying to do what's asked of me," Griffin said. "Not trying to speak much, just do whatever is asked of me, and that's all I can do."

Sunday's top plays

Griffin had an interception in Sunday's practice, one of four turnovers forced by the Vikings defense.

Rookie linebacker Jake Ganus also had a pick after a tipped ball by Terence Newman, who returned to action and worked with the first-team defense on Sunday. Cornerbacks Xavier Rhodes and Marcus Sherels also recorded interceptions. 

Sherels had tight coverage on Thielen along the sideline before snagging his interception. 

Rhodes covered a ton of ground as Bridgewater went deep. Rhodes sprinted over from the other side of the field before making a leaping grab.

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