MINNEAPOLIS (FOX 9) - The Minnesota Vikings are still searching for their first win of the 2023 season, and they head south to face the Carolina Panthers on Sunday in a battle of 0-3 teams.
That also means a reunion with former receiver Adam Thielen, the Detroit Lakes native and former MSU-Mankato standout who went undrafted, earned a roster spot on special teams and eventually became a standout receiver for the Vikings. Thielen spent his first nine seasons in Minnesota, earning Pro Bowl honors in 2017.
Thielen was released this offseason as the Vikings’ front office parted ways with several veterans on big contracts. He was due more than $19 million. In three starts with the Panthers, Thielen has 20 catches on 25 targets for 211 yards and two touchdowns. He has 11 catches on third down.
"Absolutely one of those guys I look back on last year and very thankful I got a chance to coach him. I couldn’t be a bigger fan of Adam Thielen the person, and it’s not a surprise to me one bit that he’s gone down there and having a huge impact," Vikings coach Kevin O’Connell said. "He’s doing great things, it’s not a surprise to me at all."
Kirk Cousins was teammates with Thielen for the last five seasons. The two connected 354 times for 45 touchdowns over that span. The last time Cousins opposed Thielen was in 2017, when Cousins was in Washington. Thielen had eight catches for 166 yards and a touchdown in that game, a 38-30 Vikings’ win.
"Didn’t go well for me, he had a big day. He’s a great player, I was a beneficiary of that for many years and I know Carolina is excited to have him. He’s got a lot of good football left in him," Cousins said. "I’ll always be pulling for him but on Sunday obviously, we’ll have different interests for the first time in about six years."
Tight end T.J. Hockenson only spent about half of last season being a teammate of Thielen’s, but saw him plenty as division rivals with the Detroit Lions. When Hockenson came to Minnesota, he noticed Thielen the person the most.
"When I was going up against him, I’m sitting on the sideline watching him make play after play. To be able to come here and play with him, he’s just such a good dude," Hockenson said. "You understand why he’s been in the league for such a long time, because of the person he is and the type of impact he has on the community. He’s a guy that can talk to anybody, a guy that you love to hang around with."
COUSINS, HOCKENSON LAMENT LATE TURNOVER IN LOSS
Cousins and Hockenson left U.S. Bank Stadium kicking themselves Sunday night after a 28-24 loss to the Chargers. Given new life with under a minute to play, the Vikings let the clock run after a fourth down conversion to Hockenson trying to get a play in, instead of spiking the ball to preserve time. On the next play, Hockenson bobbled a pass from Cousins at the goal line, and it was intercepted to seal an 0-3 start.
Cousins is still sick about the play after seeing it on film.
"I hope my boys find something they’re as passionate about as I am about football, but I hope it doesn’t torment them the way football torments me. I’m crawling in my skin driving home from the stadium on Sunday and the last two days," Cousins said. "Gotta get back on the horse on Wednesday and get back to work, but golly you’re sitting there in meetings and just frustrated."
Hockenson said it’s a catch he has to make. He also lost a fumble in the first quarter on a potential scoring drive.
"It’s a tough play, but one I totally think I should make. That’s one of those that you sleep at night and you see the ball come at you 1,000 different times. That’s a tough one, but I hold myself to a standard and know I can make that," Hockenson said. "You have to correct it and understand that there’s so much football left in this team and there’s so much we can do. Understand that we’re stopping ourselves and nothing else."
Cousins leads the NFL with 1,075 passing yards and nine touchdowns through three games. Justin Jefferson leads the league with 458 receiving yards. Danielle Hunter is second in the NFL with five sacks, yet the Vikings are 0-3 because of nine turnovers and lacking execution in key situations.
Garrett Bradbury is hopeful to return after missing the last two games with a back injury, and was limited at practice on Wednesday. Harrison Phillips and Harrison Smith did not practice, getting veteran rest days. Josh Metellus (shoulder) and Byron Murphy Jr. (hip) and Marcus Davenport (ankle) did not practice.