MANKATO, Minn. — Adam Thielen knew the scenario as he broke toward the sideline — third-and-12 for the Vikings offense at their opponent's 38-yard line with just over a minute left in the fourth quarter.
It was crunch time, and Thielen delivered. The wide receiver hauled in a perfect Sam Bradford pass and skimmed his toes on the grass to pick up 17 yards and move the chains. Four plays later, Bradford found Stefon Diggs for the go-ahead score.
Situations like the one at the end of Monday's practice have been a staple for Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer this offseason and at training camp.
"Those are crucial situations when you're either down by a score or maybe you have a tie ball game, and you have to go down and get some points on the board," Thielen said. "You have to take advantage of those reps because when you get to the game it'll be a little smoother.
"It's going to make you feel a little more comfortable," Thielen added.
Vikings tight end Kyle Rudolph was glad to see his unit come through.
"Obviously it's important for us to get a first down and try and win the game," Rudolph said. "But a few times last year, we were in that situation, we went backwards and didn't even get three [points], so it's stuff we have to work on and continue to get better at."
Zimmer wants the Vikings to be ready for anything and everything this season. He has thrown his team into a variety of scenarios at the end of practices, whether it's a 2-minute drill or simply trying to run out the clock on offense.
But the catch is that Zimmer keeps that day's situation close to the vest, forcing everyone to think on the fly.
"He doesn't tell anybody. No coaches, no players," Vikings safety Harrison Smith said with a smile. "You have to think about it and know what the offense or defense is looking to do."
Added Thielen: "You never know what the score is going to be, how much time you're going to have, how many timeouts you have … you just don't know. So you just have to play it out, and whatever it is, you have to do your best."
Players are used to the situations by now, even if they're not exactly sure what they are going to be. They just know there is a chance to get better and prepare for something that they might see down the road.
And it's a drill where both sides of the ball can learn something.
"They're all situations that have happened in the NFL, a lot of them from last season," Smith said. "They're not game-like, they're very game situations.
"That was an area we could have done a lot better with last year so I think it's been great for us," Smith added. "We still have to go out and make the plays and take advantage of what he's been teaching us."
Now on his 24th season in the NFL, Zimmer knows all too well how many games are decided by a few points.
The outcome of 106 out of 256 NFL games last season were decided by six points or less, including a pair of ties. That means just over 41 percent of games are decided by a play here or a play there.
The Vikings went 2-4 in games decided by six points or less. They earned close wins against Green Bay and Arizona, but fell short twice against Detroit and couldn't pull out wins against Washington and Dallas.
Minnesota finished 8-8 and missed the postseason while the 9-7 Lions were a Wild Card team.
Thielen noted that if the Vikings would have swung one or two of those close losses the other way, they would have been in the playoffs.
That's the mindset Zimmer is instilling in his team in the dog days of August — execute, and it will pay off in December and January.
"There's studies around the league where there's a lot of games that came down to six points or less," Thielen said. "The teams that win those situations are the teams that make it into the playoffs and make a long run.
"It always comes down to one or two games on whether you're going to make the playoffs or not," Thielen added.