EAGAN, Minn. — After dealing with a frustrating 2-2 start and struggles on offense, the Minnesota Vikings reached a boiling point six days ago.
Following the loss at the Chicago Bears and another anemic offensive performance that produced six points, players and coaches were left grappling with what has gone wrong through four games.
In the aftermath, there were perceived shots at quarterback Kirk Cousins, apologies, podcasts, no-shows and trade rumors, and that’s all in the lead-up to Sunday’s contest at the New York Giants (1 p.m. ET, Fox).
In an effort to put a bow on a week of drama in Minnesota and decipher what’s going on with the Vikings, here’s how we got here:
Wide receivers Stefon Diggs and Adam Thielen were virtual nonfactors for most of the game against the Bears. While Diggs caught seven passes for 108 yards and had an untimely fumble, very little of that production helped the offense capitalize. Thielen had his lowest output — two receptions for six yards — since December 2015, as Cousins missed him on a handful of deep throws.
At the beginning of the fourth quarter, Diggs was seen yelling on the sideline as Cousins threw another checkdown on third-and-long and the offense was going nowhere. Thielen sat by himself on a bench away from his quarterback.
It was the fourth straight game in which the Vikings’ offense failed to pass for more than 233 yards.
What had been a dominating run game for Minnesota was held to a season-low 40 yards. And Thielen, who produced eight consecutive 100-yard games last season, has yet to reach that mark this season.
After the game, Thielen expressed his displeasure with the Vikings’ inability to find a solution when things went wrong, stating that the performance in Chicago was “so frustrating, it’s unbelievable.”
“At some point, you’re not going to be able to run the ball for 180 yards, even with the best running back in the NFL,” Thielen told reporters. “That’s when you have to be able to throw the ball. … You have to be able to hit the deep balls.”
Meanwhile, Thielen addressed several media members in the locker room, noting that the “frustration is over now” and the team had moved on to preparing for the Giants. Thielen also tried to clarify his critique of the passing game.
“My comments yesterday after the game was it was a very broad sense,” Thielen said. “I think any team is going tell you, you can’t be one-dimensional. And that’s not a shot at anyone. That’s not taking shots on coaches, players, nobody. That’s just being real and saying that you can’t just be a run team, you can’t just be a pass team and expect to have success in this league. You have to be able to do both well, and that’s what we’re striving to be able to do.’’
Thielen was a guest on his quarterback’s podcast, “Under Center with Kirk Cousins,” which airs on KFAN, the team’s flagship radio station. Cousins apologized to his receiver for not executing plays to him, including an overthrown deep ball that would have resulted in a touchdown and tied the game at 7 had the play been made.
“I really want to apologize to him because there’s too many opportunities where we could have hit him on Sunday,” Cousins said. “I talk to the media, I always say until I watch the film it’s hard for me to really give you a straight answer. Well, now it’s Tuesday night. I’ve watched the film. And the reality is there were opportunities for him.”
Cousins also said he looks forward to giving Thielen and Diggs more opportunities in the weeks ahead.
Thielen addressed his comments from Sunday’s game yet again.
“First of all, I think it’s interesting how media or fans take things that you say and make it what they want it to be,” Thielen said. “I don’t think I could say anything more generic that any offense would say. You can’t be one-dimensional in this league. It’s very, very, very difficult to win. If you listen to defensive coordinators talk, they want to make the offense one-dimensional, and that’s how they want to win.”
The Vikings, still not past all their apologizing, were back in the building preparing for the Giants.
Coach Mike Zimmer was asked in his news conference about Cousins apologizing to teammates in a public forum.
“I’m not a fan of it, no,” Zimmer said. “He was probably just being nice. I mean, seriously, I’m not worried about it. Maybe he should get off the podcast.”
Cousins addressed his apology, saying he felt compelled to do it because, “You want to make sure that they’re aware of where you can be better. You don’t ever want your teammates feeling like, he thinks he’s doing everything right and he’s not. So, I felt Adam was taking some heat, and I was trying to basically say, ‘Hey, it’s not what you said.’ There’s always more to it.”
When practice began, every player was in attendance, even those who were injured and limited or not participating, except for Diggs. When the injury report was distributed later that afternoon, Diggs was listed as DNP with a “non-football injury.” As soon as word of his absence hits social media, speculation over possible trade scenarios began to swirl.
Multiple sources told ESPN that the Vikings are not looking to trade Diggs, for a handful of reasons, one being that he is in the second year of the five-year extension he signed in July 2018. He also is a big part of the team’s offensive plan, despite what early numbers show.
Other sources, however, confirmed that Diggs’ discontent with the Vikings offense and his role have been rising for weeks.
Diggs was in the building, and he had a cold.
The wideout was spotted coming off the field after morning walk-through and broke his silence after more than two weeks of not talking to the media. Wearing a hoodie tied around his face, he fielded questions for six minutes.
The reason for his absence from Wednesday? “Cold kind of snuck up on us,” Diggs said. “Feeling a little bit under the weather, that’s all.”
Stefon Diggs brushes off questions about the speculations that he wants to be traded, but says there’s truth to all rumors.
The receiver addressed his role in the offense after his target share was down in the first four games of the season from where it was at last year. Diggs has caught 13 of his 19 targets for 209 yards and a touchdown. In the Vikings’ first four games of the 2018 season, he had 44 targets, 27 catches and 311 yards.
“I can’t sit up here and act like everything is OK,” Diggs said. “It’s obviously not. But what I can say at this point, just trying to work through it.”
When addressing rumors and speculation over whether he wants out of Minnesota, the receiver kept deferring to the same phrase: “There’s truth to all rumors.”
So, did he himself demand a trade?
“I haven’t communicated anything. The conversations I’ve had [with the Vikings] have only been about team and trying to have success on the field.”
What about his agent?
“I haven’t spoke to him about it,” Diggs said. “You’ve got to talk to him.”
Bottom line, does he want to be here?
“I love it here,” Diggs said. “I’ve been here for five years. I love everything about the community, I love everything about my teammates and I love everything about my team. But right now, as to whether I’ll be here or not, it’s whether they want me here.”
Diggs was a full participant in practice on Thursday, but as the other receivers, Thielen included, stayed after to catch passes from Cousins, Diggs worked on his own with practice squad quarterback Jake Browning.
While it’s normal for receivers and QBs to work together after practice, Browning’s routine recently has included a post-practice throwing sessions with fullback C.J. Ham. So, it’s certainly not abnormal for a practice squad quarterback to throw to the star wide receiver while the rest of his pass-catching teammates work with the player who will be under center on Sunday, as Browning explained.
“Everyone was running full speed routes; he just wanted me to throw to him so he could catch a couple footballs,” Browning said. “That was it. I think it’s getting made out to be a little more than it was. I was just throwing for him to catch it.”
Zimmer referred to all questions about Diggs as “an internal matter” and chose not to speak about the situation, other than to say the following about his availability in Week 5: “We’ll have to see.”
Diggs went through a full practice for a second day in a row, but his availability was still in question for Sunday’s game.
The line of questioning was as follows at Zimmer’s final news conference of the week.
Will Stefon Diggs play this week?
Zimmer: “I don’t know. We’ll see.”
Did he look like himself in practice?
Zimmer: “I have to watch the tape.”
What are you basing his availability on?
Zimmer: “We’re going to watch the tape.”
So Diggs being able to play is based on how he looks over punishment for not being at practice on Wednesday for non-injury-related reasons?
Zimmer: “He’s already been punished.”
Important to note: It’s up to the Vikings if they want to fine Diggs for missing Wednesday’s practice, if he was indeed not excused.