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Thielen’s return may lift Vikings ahead of matchup with Rams

December 22, 2021 GMT
Minnesota Vikings wide receiver Adam Thielen (19) is stopped after a gain during the first half of an NFL football game against the Detroit Lions, Sunday, Dec. 5, 2021, in Detroit. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)
Minnesota Vikings wide receiver Adam Thielen (19) is stopped after a gain during the first half of an NFL football game against the Detroit Lions, Sunday, Dec. 5, 2021, in Detroit. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)
Minnesota Vikings wide receiver Adam Thielen (19) is stopped after a gain during the first half of an NFL football game against the Detroit Lions, Sunday, Dec. 5, 2021, in Detroit. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)
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Minnesota Vikings wide receiver Adam Thielen (19) is stopped after a gain during the first half of an NFL football game against the Detroit Lions, Sunday, Dec. 5, 2021, in Detroit. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)
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Minnesota Vikings wide receiver Adam Thielen (19) is stopped after a gain during the first half of an NFL football game against the Detroit Lions, Sunday, Dec. 5, 2021, in Detroit. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)

EAGAN, Minn. (AP) — Two straight wins have put the Minnesota Vikings back in playoff position. The passing attack has not inspired as much confidence.

Perhaps the return of receiver Adam Thielen from a sprained ankle can spark an offense that was largely grounded during uneven victories over Pittsburgh and Chicago.

After missing two games, Thielen might be ready for action again on Sunday when the Vikings (7-7) host the Los Angeles Rams (10-4).

“I feel really good about where we’re at,” Thielen said Wednesday. “I’ve got really good people around me that have been really helping me. I think we’re on a faster track than most with this injury, so I’m excited about that and the opportunity to get out here and just get back to playing football.”

Neither Thielen nor coach Mike Zimmer would commit to a return on Sunday. Minnesota held a walkthrough-type practice on Wednesday, and Thielen did rehab work on the side.

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The Vikings also activated backup running back Alexander Mattison from the reserve/COVID-19 list on Wednesday.

Thielen could provide a boost after the Vikings managed just 61 net passing yards in a 17-9 victory over the Bears and their depleted secondary.

Thielen has 64 catches on 92 targets in 12 games this season, accounting for 686 yards. He was hurt on the opening drive at Detroit on Dec. 5.

Despite his recent absence, Thielen leads the Vikings with 10 touchdowns. That’s still the eighth-highest total in the league, and only two players, Cooper Kupp and Mike Evans, have more receiving scores.

“Adam has been such a great player for us for as long as I’ve been here and we have so many reps together, so when he’s out there it just enables you to really feel comfortable,” quarterback Kirk Cousins said.

Thielen worked out on the field before Monday night’s game in an attempt to play, but he wasn’t quite ready.

“I just couldn’t explode the way I needed to,” Thielen said. “I felt good, but I just wouldn’t have been effective. I would’ve been limited, and in the NFL, it’s hard enough at full speed. So, to be limited, that’s not helping anybody. That’s how that decision was made.”

Without Thielen, Cousins was 12-of-24 passing for a career-low 87 yards, with two touchdowns and one interception. He also was sacked a season-high four times.

“I think that he had some tough moments in there with some of the coverage that they were giving us and some of the pressure that he was under,” Zimmer said.

Cousins posted passer ratings of 63.4 and 69.3 against the Steelers and Bears, two of his three lowest marks of the season. The 36-28 win against Pittsburgh was fueled by a season-high 242 yards rushing. The Vikings finished with a season-low 193 yards of offense at Chicago.

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“Obviously winning is where we’re most importantly focused,” Cousins said. “I think you’re always going back and being really critical, and saying, ‘How can I play better? What were the plays that I needed to be better on?’ You really don’t change based on the outcome or based on a certain production level.”

The Vikings still have Pro Bowl stars in receiver Justin Jefferson and running back Dalvin Cook, but Thielen can only help boost the production. He said he could still play in the game even if he’s not cleared to fully practice this week.

“If I feel good enough to play and it takes until Sunday to do that, I have a ton of confidence that I could play at a high level. Now, would I rather get reps and confidence during practice? Absolutely,” Thielen said.

“At the end of the day, I want to be out there. So, whatever that takes and whatever the experts and people in this building think is best for that, I’m going to do.”

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