MINNEAPOLIS – Adam Thielen hauled in the quick receiver screen pass from Kirk Cousins and turned up field as the Minnesota Vikings were looking to add another touchdown to increase their three-point lead in the second quarter on Sunday night.
Thielen was hit by New Orleans linebacker Alex Anzalone and fumbled. Marcus Lattimore scooped up the ball and returned it 54 yards. With an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty on Minnesota receiver Laquon Treadwell tacked on, the Saints needed only two plays to go 18 yards for a go-ahead touchdown.
The Vikings went from a possible double-digit lead to a deficit they would never recover from.
“Obviously that is probably the biggest reason we lost the game,” Thielen said after Minnesota’s 30-20 loss to New Orleans. “When you have the momentum going into the half, going to score points with a chance to get the ball in the second half, that’s a huge play. It can’t happen…
“I’m not happy about it. I’m going to try to keep doing what I can to help this team win, but obviously that wasn’t it.”
Two receivers who had propelled the Vikings’ passing offense to a historic start made uncharacteristic errors as Minnesota (4-3-1) dropped Sunday night’s game and had its three-game winning streak snapped.
For Thielen, it was his first fumble of the season. In the third quarter, receiver Stefon Diggs stopped running on a crossing route and Kirk Cousins’ anticipatory throw went into the arms of Saints cornerback P.J. Williams for an interception returned for a touchdown.
Thielen, he of the record 100-yard receiving days to start this season, and Diggs, the maker of the “Minneapolis Miracle” that beat New Orleans in the playoffs in the same building last season, each took responsibility for Sunday’s loss.
“It’s all on me,” Diggs said. “I was trying to read (Cousins) and I should have just did what I’m coached to do instead of stopping. Guy had an easy pick and touchdown. If we get that play back, maybe the game would be different.”
The Saints (6-1) took advantage and came up with an important road win despite totaling just 270 offensive yards. Quarterback Drew Brees needed to only pass 23 times. He had 18 completions for 120 yards a touchdown and his first interception of the season.
Running back Alvin Kamara had 76 total yards and two touchdowns.
“Any team worth a dang is a road warrior,” Kamara said. “You got to be able to win on the road in this league. We’ve got a recipe and we’re sticking to it.”
As much as New Orleans left this building in January after Diggs’ miracle, game-winning touchdown as time expired, the Saints left this time with equal fortuitous breaks.
“One hundred percent, we beat ourselves,” Thielen said. “All credit to them though, that’s a really good football team. They made a lot of plays and they were able to capitalize on the turnovers. That’s how this league works.”
Thielen extended streak of 100-yard receiving days to eight straight. The mark sets the NFL record for consecutive games with 100 yards receiving to start a season and tied Calvin Johnson’s record for eight in a row, the best streak in league history at any point in a season.
Thielen had five catches for 75 yards after fumbling. He didn’t have another target until 6:46 left in the fourth quarter when Thielen caught a pass across the middle and went for 27 yards. He scored a 1-yard touchdown to cap the drive.
“I think I’ve said this eight weeks in a row, ‘100 yards doesn’t mean anything unless you’re winning games, unless you’re helping the team win,’” Thielen said. “And I didn’t do that tonight.”
With Cousins coming to Minnesota to replace Case Keenum – the other end of Diggs’ game-winning touchdown in the playoffs last season – the Vikings had had an efficient passing offense with Thielen setting records for the most catches through the first seven games of the season. He increased the NFL record to 74 catches through eight games on Sunday.
Minnesota, heading into the week, had the sixth-best passing offense at 298.6 yards per game. Diggs, with 10 catches on Sunday, is fourth in the league with 58 receptions.
Two receivers used to making game-changing plays had the plays go the other way for a change.
“We made some mistakes, yes,” Vikings coach Mike Zimmer said. “We turned the ball over, yes. This is still a good football team. Even in here, it seems like a morgue. This is a good football team. These guys fought their rear ends off tonight and I’m proud of them.”
Brian can be found on Twitter at @MNBrianHall. See all of the Vikings’ coverage at footballmaven.io/vikings