With just over five minutes left in the first quarter, Adam Thielen made one of his patented incredible catches, a 25-yard score to get the Vikings on the board.
But that would be the final play of the game for Minnesota’s star wide receiver because he suffered a hamstring injury on the play.
Thielen’s absence didn’t faze the rest of the Vikings offense. Multiple players stepped up as the unit racked up a season-high 503 yards of offense in a 42-30 road win over the Lions.
“I’m just so proud of this team, for our offense to come out here and battle for 60 minutes,” said Vikings tight end Kyle Rudolph. “Last night in our meeting, [Vikings Offensive Coordinator] Kevin [Stefanski] said, ‘Whoever plays harder, longer, will win.’ We knew that we were going to go against a physical, stout defense for 60 minutes.
“It took everybody. Adam goes down unfortunately early in the game,” Rudolph added. “It was an all-around team effort for us today.”
After the game, Thielen said he is hopeful for being able to play Thursday night at home against Washington.
“I always feel like I can play,” Thielen said. “But at the same time, I trust our guys, and I trust their opinion, and I’m just here to try to help this team win and do whatever they tell me to do, and they have my best interest in [mind], and I’m going to trust that, and hopefully we can get it back and ready to go for Thursday.”
But if the two-time Pro Bowler can’t go, the Vikings showed Sunday that they have plenty of players — including the tight ends — who can help fill the void.
Rudolph had five catches for 58 yards and a score, with his 15-yard touchdown marking the 400th catch of his career. Rookie Irv Smith, Jr., had five catches for 60 yards, his highest production as a pro.
The two combined for 10 catches for 118 yards and a touchdown despite having 16 combined catches for 165 yards in the previous six games.
“You never want to lose a guy like Adam, but those other guys stepped up,” said Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer. “The tight ends got involved today … Kyle had a touchdown, and Irv had a couple catches.
“You know, the more that we can mix it around, you [can beat] double coverage,” Zimmer added. “I believe they were in double coverage on [Stefon] Diggs on the one that Kyle got the touchdown on. They missed the coverage.”
Diggs had seven catches for 142 yards, including a clutch 66-yard reception just ahead of the 2-minute warning.
While Rudolph scored his first touchdown of the season, wide receiver Bisi Johnson and C.J. Ham each caught their first career scores.
Johnson’s 1-yard catch tied the game at 14 early in the second quarter, as he darted across the field behind Minnesota’s line for an easy throw from quarterback Kirk Cousins.
“I knew I was going to have an opportunity to get the ball,” said Johnson, who finished with four catches for 40 yards. “I was going to motion over … if it was man, they were going to have to send them back over the top when I came back underneath. I knew it from the start.
“I prepared myself during the week that if anything happened in the game,” Johnson added. “I know I’m the next one up. It was just going out there and playing ball.”
Added Zimmer: “He’s played good all year.”
Ham, who helped pave the way for 160-plus rushing yards, scored on 5-yard pass with 9:02 left in the third quarter. Minnesota didn’t relinquish the lead after the touchdown.
“It was a lot of fun. It’s been a couple years,” said Ham, whose first-career score came on the ground at Pittsburgh in Week 2 of the 2017 season. “It’s my first receiving touchdown, but it’s been a couple years since scoring a touchdown, and it was special.”
Thielen and Diggs have established themselves as top targets across the league for the past few seasons, but the collection of Rudolph, Smith, Jr., Johnson and Ham more than picked up the slack with 15 receptions for 163 yards and three scores.
Cousins had another monster day by completing 24 of 34 passes for 337 yards with four touchdowns. His passer rating was 141.4, but the quarterback said he was more than happy to see his teammates step up after the loss of Thielen.
“I think it’s a credit to our other players, starting with Diggsy stepping up, Bisi Johnson, Irv Smith,” Cousins said. “Kyle Rudolph did a great job, even Tyler Conklin. We really called on him quite a bit in protection, and when you can run the football well, it also takes pressure off of that loss.
[Laquon Treadwell] stepped up and did a great job of getting lined up in some unique formations,” Cousins added. “I’m just really proud of the way those guys responded and showed up.”
Minnesota has now produced an astounding 1,440 yards of offense in three straight wins. Cousins has thrown for 11 touchdowns in that span, including to four different receivers on Sunday.
The Vikings have now shown they have a handful of offensive weapons, with anyone able to contribute at any given time.
“We’ve always known we’ve had a ton of talent on offense, it’s just a matter of using them and getting everyone involved, and that’s not easy,” Rudolph said. “If you go back and look at the last two games, now we’re starting to see it.
“But we have to continue to get better. Short week this week with the Redskins coming to town,” Rudolph added. “Coach [Zimmer] said in the locker room after the game … we have to keep doing things well that we’re doing well, but also there’s a lot of stuff to clean up. I don’t think our offense has reached our full potential yet.”