Written By Sam Ekstrom (ZoneCoverage.com)
Photo Credit: Kyle Hansen
Stefon Diggs sat by himself in the hallway outside the Minnesota Vikings locker room following the team’s 24-10 loss to escape the postgame hubbub, not eager to speak with reporters.
Limited by a knee injury during the week that reportedly swelled up on Saturday, Diggs played through discomfort and was held to five catches for 49 yards.
FOX cameras captured him yelling during the second half. It wouldn’t take a professional lip reader to interpret that he uttered something similar to, “Throw me the (expletive) ball.”
The Vikings offense punted five times, threw two interceptions, turned it over on downs and missed a field goal. Kirk Cousins posted a 4.57 yards per attempt, the lowest mark of his Vikings career.
“There were usually a lot of double coverages on guys,” said head coach Mike Zimmer, “and they had some looks where they were showing a lot of zero [blitzes] and backing guys out, and then, once in a while, they’d [blitz].”
It wasn’t just Diggs who was frustrated. The other half of the Vikings’ normally dynamic duo was also held down as Adam Thielen finished with five catches for 28 yards and the Vikings’ lone touchdown catch. With the Vikings trailing 10-7 in the third quarter, Thielen argued for a pass interference call in the end zone but didn’t draw a flag. “When you don’t have the opportunity to try to catch the ball, usually you want a flag,” said Thielen. “But that’s part of football.”
The Vikings leading receiver also dropped two catchable passes, one of which could have converted a third down for at least a 30-yard gain. Thielen ran a perfect route against a double team and had to leave his feet to try and reel in Cousins’ pass, but couldn’t haul it in despite getting both hands on the ball. It was a play the Vikings have grown accustomed to Thielen making.
“One of the times when they were doubling Adam was the time where we had a chance to hit a big play to him, and the ball was just a foot too far on third down,” said Cousins.
The quarterback also admitted to missing Diggs deep on the second-to-last play of the third quarter when Diggs was running free downfield, but Cousins aired it out to a doubled Aldrick Robinson instead.
“I think there was one time where we did take a shot over the free safety’s head,” said Cousins, “but I just didn’t put it on the right side of the field where Diggsy was.”
The 77 combined yards for Thielen and Diggs was their lowest combined output of the season.
With the game slipping away in the fourth quarter, Thielen even engaged Patriots head coach Bill Belichick in a heated exchange when he believed the Patriots were fabricating an injury to get more time to challenge a spot.
“I’ve got to keep my cool,” Thielen said. “Obviously I’ve got a lot of respect for him and what he’s done, and I can’t lose it like that, but I thought it was interesting timing for a guy to go down when it was a close play that could’ve been reviewed. I just lost my emotions.”
Between Diggs’ apparent demand for the ball, Thielen’s complaint on the near pass interference and his words with Belichick, there were plenty of visual representations of the Vikings’ angst as their offense fell flat for a second straight high-profile road game.
When the cameras weren’t trained on them, Diggs, Thielen, Cousins and offensive coordinator John DeFilippo were seen huddled on the sideline between drives collaborating, trying to figure out exactly how to beat the Patriots’ stingy scheme.
“There’s constant dialogue,” said Cousins, “just talking about play thoughts that you have for the next drive, rehashing the previous drive, talking about what may work, maybe why I put the ball where I did on the previous drive. Just taking ownership that there was a mistake, just saying, ‘Hey, that was my fault.'”
With teams routinely bracketing Thielen and often doubling Diggs as well, the Vikings continue to look for complementary production from their other pass catchers. But against New England, no receivers recorded 50 or more yards through the air.
“We felt that going into the game, as much as they may try to take [Thielen and Diggs] away, that there would still be opportunities there, as well as opportunities to [Kyle Rudolph] and our backs and Aldrick [Robinson] and Laquon [Treadwell], and there certainly were at times,” Cousins said. “But other times, we just didn’t, as an offense, find a way to get it done.”
With the margin for error all but gone and the Vikings approaching must-win mode next Monday against the Seattle Seahawks, DeFilippo and Co. face their most pressure-packed week yet.
“When you become one-dimensional,” said Rudolph, “you become really easy to defend.”