Vikings receiver Adam Thielen really does have hands of gold
MINNEAPOLIS — Adam Thielen's fifth catch Sunday, Dec. 31, was money.
By hauling in six more passes in the Vikings' 23-10 victory over the Chicago Bears — the fifth one being the difference-maker — Thielen reached an incentive bonus in his contract that will boost his salary by $1 million for each of the next three seasons.
His contract called for salary escalators of $500,000 after he reached 70 catches, another $250,000 for 80 total receptions, and another $250,000 for 90 grabs.
After making six catches for 61 yards against the Bears, Thielen capped the 2017 season with 91 receptions that he turned into 1,276 yards. Those totals were the seventh and ninth most, respectively, in Vikings single-season history.
"I'm aware of those numbers just because of social media nowadays," Thielen said. "But, no, it definitely isn't something I ever think about until I'm done with my career, then I think I might look back at it and say that was pretty cool. Honestly, I just want to win ball games; it's never fun to lose in this league."
Thielen closed the regular season as the Vikings' leader in both receptions and yards.
"Adam is an unbelievable person and a great competitor," coach Mike Zimmer said. "He continues to get better each and every week and year."
Defense finishes as NFL's best
At the end of a 16-game marathon stood one final test for the Vikings' straight-A defense. Trailing 23-10 with less than four minutes to play, Chicago's desperation drive moved all the way to Minnesota's 2-yard-line, where it set up for first-and-goal.
A touchdown and the Bears were back in it, reviving the potential for an upset that could cost the Vikings a precious first-round bye in the playoffs.
Minnesota denied Chicago four straight times.
That defense was the best in the NFL this season. Minnesota finished the regular season first in yards allowed (275.9), first in points allowed (15.8) and first in third-down conversion defense (25.2 percent) — the latter number is the best in league history since the NFL started tracking the stat back in 1991.
Over the past three weeks, Minnesota has allowed a total of one defensive touchdown, a meaningless score midway through the fourth quarter of the Vikings' blowout win over Cincinnati.
Diggs comes through
After a hot start, Stefon Diggs' production fell during groin injury that hampered him for much of Minnesota's Week 5 road win over Chicago and held him out for the following two weeks. After that, Diggs looked like a mere mortal.
Diggs had six catches for 65 yards and a touchdown in Minnesota's 23-10 victory over Chicago on Sunday. He has caught five-plus passes in each of Minnesota's past four games, catching 73 percent of balls sent his way in that span.
"It's unbelievable," teammate Adam Thielen said. "We rely heavy on what he does on the field. He's just an explosive player and a guy that can do a lot of the things really well. He's another guy we really rely on to get us going in this offense, and to give us a little spark on offense."
Bears trickery works
Vikings punter Ryan Quigley saw the impending mistake before any of his teammates on the punt unit.
His second-quarter punt that was supposed to travel high and to the left was instead going low and right, a forgivable gaffe most of the time.
But in need of a spark, the struggling Chicago Bears had Bryce Callahan kneel in front of their sideline before the snap, hiding from Quigley and the Vikings, ready to pop out onto the field to make a return no one would see coming.
"Once I figured out what was going on, I was, like, 'This is not good,' " Quigley said. "I knew where the punt was hit, and I knew it was the worst-case scenario for our punt team. I put them in a bad place. That's on me. I'll take all that (blame)."
It was "the perfect call," Vikings gunner Jayron Kearse said after watching Callahan turn the punt into a 59-yard touchdown.