LONDON – Sandwiched around a Browns touchdown, the Vikings’ sixth, seven and eighth offensive snaps produced an interception, a sack and a run for minus-4 yards.
Third-and-15. Otherwise known as time for Adam Thielen to make a play.
Still sounds a little weird, doesn’t it?
“People just kind of look at this kid, Division II player from Mankato, and they don’t think he’s as talented as anyone else out there,” Vikings tight end Kyle Rudolph said after Sunday’s 33-16 win over the Browns at Twickenham Stadium. “And he is.”
On that ninth snap, Thielen got open and Case Keenum found him for a 17-yard gain. Four snaps later, the lead was cut in half, 6-3.
“He sets routes up really good,” Vikings coach Mike Zimmer said of Thielen’s savvy third-down play. “He leans one way and then goes the other way. He’s probably as good a route runner as we have.”
Thielen finished with five catches for 98 yards, including an 18-yard score that was followed by a crowd-pleasing celebration in which he slid on his knees, a la the soccer stars he loves to watch.
“I always played FIFA and stuff like that growing up, and seeing those guys celebrate, I kind of got inspiration from that,” said Thielen, sporting an Arsenal jersey he bought while attending Saturday night’s match against Swansea City. “Supposedly, I stole it. Kyle did it in practice the other day and I must have saw it and wanted to do it, too, but I beat him to the punch, I guess.”
Thielen is doing that to a lot of his NFL peers this season. He’s the only player in the league to have at least five catches in every game.
Thielen’s second catch came, naturally, on third down. Two plays after a chop block by rookie guard Danny Isadora negated Thielen’s 40-yard catch, Thielen grabbed a 22-yarder on third-and-11.
“He studies as hard as anyone I’ve ever been around,” Rudolph said. “And all his routes look the same. You don’t know where he’s going to cut.”
Although the Vikings ended up punting six snaps after Thielen’s 22-yard catch, the play flipped field position. The Browns got the ball at their 9, went three-and-out and gave the Vikings the ball back at their 40.
Seven plays later, Thielen was lined up wide right when a Browns secondary missing two injured starters botched its coverage. Cornerback Jamar Taylor sat in zone coverage, thinking he had safety Ibraheim Campbell over the top.
But Campbell bit on the play-action, leaving Thielen so wide open in the end zone that he appeared to be doing jumping jacks trying to get Keenum’s attention.
“My read was on the other side of the field,” Keenum said. “I just wound up coming back to him on the little scramble drill. It’s good because he probably would have let me have it if I hadn’t seen him and thrown him the ball.”
The touchdown gave the Vikings their first lead, 9-6.
The Browns led 16-15 late in the third quarter when Thielen went to work again. He got open for a 25-yard reception on second-and-9. Four snaps later, he drew a 14-yard pass interference penalty on former Gopher Briean Boddy-Calhoun in the end zone.
The Vikings scored on the next play and ran for a two-point try and a 23-16 lead.
Keenum joked that perhaps Thielen’s acting ability helped sell the flag on Boddy-Calhoun.
“Well, [Thielen] had his soccer celebration going, so maybe he had to work on his flop, too,” Keenum said. “No, I think that was a good call.”
He smiled wide as he made that last comment.
Thielen would catch another pass. On third-and-10, he gained 16 yards as the Vikings moved toward their last score.
On the year, Thielen has a team-high 28 first-down receptions. Thirteen have come on third down, another team high.
Sunday’s effort was so good that the former “Mr. Mankato” was named the BBC’s “Man of the Match.”
“Yeah,” he said, “that’s pretty cool.”