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Turnovers prove costly in Vikings' loss to Saints

By
Brian Hall, The Sports Xchange
Minnesota Vikings wide receiver Adam Thielen (19) fails to catch the pass in the end zone against the Philadelphia Eagles in the NFC Championship Game on January 21, 2018 at Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia. Photo by Derik Hamilton/UPI
Minnesota Vikings wide receiver Adam Thielen (19) fails to catch the pass in the end zone against the Philadelphia Eagles in the NFC Championship Game on January 21, 2018 at Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia. Photo by Derik Hamilton/UPI | License Photo

EAGAN, Minn. -- Adam Thielen said he hadn't looked back at the replays of his fumble on Sunday night against the New Orleans Saints. Thielen, the Minnesota Vikings receiver who is in the midst of a historic start to the season, also didn't plan on watching the fumble that eventually led to a touchdown in Minnesota's 30-20 loss.

Thielen said he knows what he did wrong and there's no reason to look back. A day later, the Vikings aren't interested in what happened Sunday when two uncharacteristic mistakes led to turnovers and a loss.

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"Every other time I get in traffic, I put it high and tight and close to my body," Thielen told reporters on Monday. "For some reason, that time, I was in traffic and was trying to split [two defenders] and use my speed rather than just tucking the ball and being safe with it."

Thielen's first fumble of the year turned a possible scoring chance into a Saints touchdown two plays later. Also, receiver Stefon Diggs stopped short on a route that led to a Kirk Cousins interception that was returned for a touchdown.

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Those two plays, and losing the turnover battle, swung momentum and led to a loss despite the Vikings outgaining New Orleans 423-270 in total yards. Minnesota held Saints quarterback Drew Brees to just 120 yards passing on 23 pass attempts. Brees also threw his first interception of the season.

The Vikings had 27 first downs to 17 for New Orleans and held the time of possession. Minnesota had 6.3 yards per play. The Saints were at 5.1.

Nearly every stat had the Vikings in control except one: turnover margin. The Saints picked up Thielen's fumble and P.J. Williams intercepted Cousins.

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"If you look at the turnovers throughout the course of the year, the times we've won the turnover battle, we've won," Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer said.

Minnesota is 3-0 when winning the turnover differential. It's 0-2-1 when losing the turnover battle.

Instead of being downtrodden over the loss, Zimmer and the Vikings were preaching positives a day later because of how they played aside from the two turnovers.

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"One thing, like I told the football team today, the last few weeks during practice, I watched this team go out there and do the things," Zimmer said. "I feel like we are starting to become a pretty good football team."

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Zimmer said he's not disappointed and Minnesota has eight games left to determine the outcome of their season. He said he's seen progress "pretty much all over."

"Defensively, I feel like we're eliminating some of the things that hurt us early in the year," Zimmer said. "I feel like the running game is getting better. I thought Latavius [Murray] ran with a purpose. I thought the offensive line did a nice job in some of those things."

Minnesota's effort defensively against Brees and the Saints helped the defense continue to rise in the rankings. The Vikings have now allowed the 10th fewest yards per game in the league. They are 14th in scoring defense at 24.4 points per game allowed.

The offense is ninth in the league in yards and 14th in scoring.

"I think we're starting to come together as a team," Thielen said. "But, at the same time, we can't make those critical mistakes that we made in the game [Sunday] night. I think in a lot of areas we're doing some really good things, but like every week, you can't make critical errors in critical situations."

Thielen said there is frustration from a missed opportunity on Sunday.

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"It's more frustrating because I think we had it going execution-wise, scheme-wise and all that," Thielen said. "When I think it's lack of concentration or maybe being too relaxed or what have you, that's the frustrating part because you know how many times you've done it a different way and the right way. And the one time you slip up, it cost you maybe the game."

Thielen and Diggs both took responsibility for their miscues after the game. A day later, Zimmer said he didn't even need to see the accountability from his receivers.

"Like I told them in the meeting [Monday], the receivers need to stop saying that stuff because one person doesn't lose a game, one person doesn't win a game," Zimmer said. "We win around here as a team, we lose around here as a team. Guys make mistakes, miscommunication, whatever you want to call it happens. I will never put any one of those things on one player ever.

"We talk about there's 22 guys on the field for 150 plays in the game. Guys are going to make mistakes, that's what it is. The team that makes the least amount of mistakes wins, but no one person loses the game."

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So, instead of looking at another missed opportunity, Minnesota looks forward to Sunday's home game against Detroit knowing it's playing well.

"I'm encouraged after this ball game," Zimmer said. "I'm encouraged after the last four weeks."

NOTES:

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LB Anthony Barr spoke to reporters on Monday after missing Sunday's game with a hamstring injury, but offered no insight on whether he might return for this week's game against Detroit. "We'll see. Whenever I'm ready, I'm ready," Barr said.

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RB Dalvin Cook told the Minneapolis Star Tribune on Monday that he is "feeling great" with his injured hamstring that has caused him to miss five of the past six games. But Cook told the paper that he is wary about a setback.

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WR Thielen continued his historic start in Sunday's game. Thielen leads the NFL with 74 catches, a league record through the first eight games of a season. Thielen also leads the league with 925 receiving yards. He's posted at least 100 receiving yards in each of his eight games this season, establishing a new NFL record for most games to start a season and tying Calvin Johnson's record of eight straight games with 100 receiving yards at any point in a season.

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DE Everson Griffen returned on Sunday for Minnesota and played 70 percent of the team's defensive snaps after missing five games to deal with a mental-health issue. Griffen had one tackle.

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WR Diggs had 10 catches for 119 yards and a touchdown in Sunday's 30-20 loss to the Saints. It's the third game this season with at least 10 catches for Diggs, who is tied for fourth in the NFL with 58 catches. Sunday was his third game with at least 100 receiving yards and he had his fourth touchdown in eight games.

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