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Lunchbreak: Thielen, Hunter & Others Recall ‘Favorite’ Plays of Football Careers

Most plays in the NFL are routine, a 5-yard run here, a catch for a first down there, or maybe a defender making a standard tackle a few yards down the field.

But every once in a while, moments come around that stick with players forever.

Chad Graff of The Athletic recently went around the Vikings locker room to try and discover the favorite play of a handful of guys from any level of their football careers.

Adam Thielen and Danielle Hunter produced two of the best stories, as each came in recent years with the Vikings.

Thielen’s moment was his first NFL touchdown, which came on a blocked punt against the Panthers in 2014.

Graff recalled Thielen’s preparation the week leading up to the game, as he was tabbed as the guy who could potentially get through the protection and block a punt.

On game day, however, the bitter cold temperatures had Thielen worried about his extremities.

Graff wrote:

Thielen wondered how much it would hurt if he did block a punt with his fingertips. He was excited, too. This was the first season of his football career that he’d ever been assigned a job trying to block a punt.

But after the Vikings forced a punt on the Panthers’ first drive, the Vikings didn’t go for a block. Thielen remained well behind the line of scrimmage for a potential return.

On the ensuing Panthers drive, the Vikings forced another punt. This time, they went for the block. Thielen and [Andrew] Sendejo hovered over the long snapper.

When the ball was sent back to punter Brad Nortman, Thielen ran through the line unblocked. He dove for Nortman’s right leg three yards out. He was almost there too quick. The ball bounced off Thielen’s thigh pads, alleviating the pain he had feared earlier.

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“Once I did that, the ball was sitting right there,” Thielen said. “It was like slow motion.”

Thielen grabbed the pigskin and raced 30 yards to the end zone, spiking the ball and pounding his chest in celebration for the most meaningful play of his career.

Hunter’s favorite play wasn’t a defensive touchdown, but it did score points for the Vikings.

The defensive end told Graff that he’ll always remember his safety on Panthers quarterback Cam Newton, which occurred in Week 3 of the 2016 season at Carolina.

Hunter explained that the quarterback was his favorite player growing up.

Graff wrote:

Hunter was floored by the chance to play Newton. During warm-ups, he looked over and saw Newton.

“He looked like a defensive end,” Hunter said. “He’s a big dude.”

Late in the first quarter, Hunter lined up across from Panthers left tackle Michael Oher, who had been the subject of movie, The Blind Side.

Not only was Hunter trying to get to a quarterback he idolized, he had to win a matchup with a player who was the focal point of a move he’d seen numerous times.

Graff explained how Hunter recorded the safety:

Hunter went right through Oher, who fell onto his back. The left guard saw that, and jumped over to try to help block Hunter, but he, too, was no match. Soon, Hunter had snuck behind his childhood idol, who was five yards into the end zone searching for a receiver downfield. Hunter threw Newton to the ground for a safety.

“Luckily he didn’t see me, because I’m pretty sure if he would’ve seen me, it would’ve been harder to bring him down,” Hunter said. “But luckily I was able to. That was an intense moment.”

Hunter hasn’t recorded a safety since, but the Vikings defense got one in Week 5 from linebacker Anthony Barr.

Graff also chatted with a handful of other Vikings players about their most memorable moments in football.

Harrison Smith recalled his first-career pick-six as a rookie, while Kirk Cousins and Britton Colquitt mentioned wild moments from high school. Ameer Abdullah went with a last-minute touchdown catch at Nebraska.

Graff’s full story can be found here.

Cook climbs to No. 2 on MJD’s running backs rankings

Entering Week 6, Dalvin Cook is second in the NFL with 542 rushing yards.

The Vikings running back is also No. 2 on a different list, as NFL.com analyst Maurice Jones-Drew has Cook ranked second among all running backs in his weekly list.

Cook is averaging 5.9 yards per carry on 92 attempts, and is tied for fourth with five rushing scores.

View the Vikings practice photos from October 9 at the TCO Performance Center.

Jones-Drew wrote that Cook will need to be at his best Sunday at home against Philadelphia.

The league's second-leading rusher has his work cut out for him this week as the Vikings host the Eagles' top-ranked run defense. The Eagles have allowed 63 rush yards per game this season, but Cook must find a way to at least double that if the Vikings want the win.

Carolina running back Christian McCaffrey occupied the top spot on Jones-Drew’s list. He has a league-high 587 rushing yards on 105 attempts and is tied for second with six rushing touchdowns.

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