CHARLOTTE, N.C. – Adam Thielen caught the pass, gained a first down and pointed flamboyantly downfield as he sprinted in front of the Vikings' bench.
That was the one time on Sunday Thielen hinted he might hold a grudge over the Vikings letting him leave to sign with the Carolina Panthers. Before and after the game, Thielen was the host of a reunion, the centerpiece of group conversations that sprawled all over the field.
Thielen bought a coffee for a longtime friend on the Vikings staff. He chatted with his former teammates and coaches. And he performed to his career standards, catching seven of eight passes thrown his way for 76 yards, continuing to be the Panthers' best receiver and rookie quarterback Bryce Young's security blanket.
The Vikings defeated Carolina 21-13 on Sunday at Bank of America Stadium, leaving the Vikings at 1-3 and the Panthers at 0-4 despite Thielen's impressive day.
"Yeah, it's just frustrating," Thielen said. "I still believe in this team — the offense, defense, special teams, the coaching staff and the organization. Being 0-4, I felt like we had a chance to win that game, all the way to the end, and didn't do it."
The Panthers did not score an offensive touchdown, and averaged only 3.4 yards per play. After the game, Thielen grabbed Young to start a one-sided conversation.
"Just really encouraging," Young said, "which I really appreciate coming from a guy who has had so much success and seen it all and still being there."
Of Young, Thielen said: "Man, I love that guy, and he has got such a bright future. I'm thankful for him and just want him to know that this is a tough league. That's just how it is. It's tough and you just have to keep fighting."
Thielen sounded like he needed a similar pep talk after losing to his old team. "It's tough," he said. "It was a tough day, to be honest. But I felt like we could have won that game. Once I was on the field, it was just another football game. I want to win. I don't care who is over there."
Current Vikings star Justin Jefferson, who supplanted Thielen as the Vikings' best receiver, said he missed Thielen.
"I always loved his energy and the work ethic that he had, every single day coming into the building," Jefferson said. "I definitely miss him and wish he was still here."
Vikings safety Harrison Smith visited with Thielen before the game. Their interaction during the game was more awkward. Thielen caught a pass over the middle, and Smith smashed into his side.
"Yeah, there was one early where I kind of slipped and hit him on his hip, or wherever, I think his feet got caught up, and I was like, 'Man, I don't want to do my guy like that,' " Smith said. "I'm glad he's doing well."
Through four games in Carolina, Thielen has 27 catches for 287 yards and two touchdowns. The player who essentially replaced him in the Vikings lineup, rookie first-round draft pick Jordan Addison, has 13 catches for 185 yards and two touchdowns after being shut out on Sunday.
Thielen's role is to be the lead receiver for a rebuilding team with a fledgling quarterback. Addison's is to add speed and explosiveness to an offense built around Jefferson. Thielen's longest reception of the season is 25 yards. Addison has catches of 62 and 39 yards.
Which was probably not what Thielen was thinking about after the game.
"Obviously, before and after the game I got to catch up with a lot of influential people in my life," Thielen said. "I'm so very thankful for that, but I definitely wanted this win."