MINNEAPOLIS – It was only fitting that on the night the Vikings inducted Randy Moss into their Ring of Honor that the team’s offense paid tribute with an aerial display that undoubtedly left the future Hall of Fame wide receiver with a smile on his face.
The Vikings top receivers – Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs – were the primary targets of what fans are hoping will be the new and improved cut-it-loose Sam Bradford.
Thielen caught nine passes for 157 yards and was targeted 10 times and Diggs caught seven passes for 93 yards with two touchdowns on eight targets in the Vikings’ 29-19 season-opening victory over New Orleans at U.S. Bank Stadium. Bradford finished 27 of 32 for 346 yards with three touchdowns and no interceptions.
“I think (Diggs) and Thielen both, from our time together from last year and building on that this year, I have a lot of confidence in those guys, and I’ve seen them make a lot of plays whether it be in games or it be in training camp,” Bradford said. “If both those guys are singled there’s a good chance I’m probably going to throw it their way just because I do feel very confident they’re going to go out and get it.”
Diggs, who wore custom made cleats honoring Moss, became the first Vikings receiver to catch two touchdown passes on opening day since Moss accomplished that feat in 2004.
“He did some great things for the game and is a living legend,” Diggs said of Moss. “I just wanted to pay respect. I grew up wanting to play receiver just because of him.”
Diggs did a pretty good Moss impression on the Vikings’ scoring drive that began at their 5-yard line with 1 minute, 43 seconds left in the second quarter. The Vikings had gotten to their 26 when Bradford found Thielen over the middle for a 44-yard gain to the Saints 30.
The Vikings faced second-and-4 from the Saints 24 when Diggs somehow held onto Bradford’s 20-yard pass despite taking a vicious hit from Saints strong safety Kenny Vaccaro. Vaccaro’s shot drew an unnecessary roughness penalty that put the ball on the New Orleans 2.
Three plays later the ball was back on the Saints 2-yard line, when Bradford lofted a pass into the front corner of the end zone for Diggs. Despite having cornerback De’Vante Harris all over him, Diggs managed to gain control of the ball as he came down and got both feet in bounds to give the Vikings a 16-6 halftime lead.
Diggs had completed the Vikings’ previous drive with an 18-yard touchdown catch. That drive started at the Vikings 26-yard line and went like this. A 35-yard pass to Thielen that put the ball at the Saints 39. A 21-yard pass to Jarius Wright that moved it to the New Orleans 18. And then, out of no-huddle, Diggs caught the touchdown pass off a play-action to Dalvin Cook.
With the NFL having relaxed its celebration rules, Diggs took advantage after scoring. “I don’t care about none of that,” he said. “I’m just worried about catching the ball, I can tell you that is more important. But it’s fun, I can have a little bit of fun.”
Concern about the Vikings’ passing game was rampant in the preseason from many corners, including this one, but it doesn’t get more efficient than that. Three plays, 74 yards, 1:18 drive time and seven points.
“(This) is something that we’ve been waiting to do,” Thielen said. “Just open up the playbook and play football. Obviously, the coaches did a great job of getting us in the right spots. Sam did a great job of checking, and we knew that they were going to give us a bunch of different coverages, so we decided to make sure that we reacted to what they gave us.”
Moss, for one, had to approve.