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Thielen picks up right where he left off

Minnesota wide receiver Adam Thielen (19) catches a the ball for a first down against San Francisco defensive back Adrian Colbert (27) in the third quarter of an NFL game at U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis on Sunday, Sept. 9, 2018. The Vikings beat the 49ers, 24-16. John Autey / Pioneer Press
Vikings receiver Adam Thielen only caught four passes for 26 yards in the preseason. But the fifth-year pro from Detroit Lakes, Minn., has been around long enough not to sweat that.
 And his performance in Sunday’s 24-16 victory over the San Francisco 49ers was a reminder that he is indeed a gamer. He caught six passes for a team-high 102 yards at U.S. Bank Stadium, giving Kirk Cousins a reliable go-to target in the quarterback’s debut with the Vikings.

And just like that, Thielen appears to be on track to repeat last season’s breakout performance, when he caught 91 passes for 1,276 yards to earn a spot in the Pro Bowl.

“Just finally being able to get into a flow and having multiple series to be able to go out there and just do our job,” Thielen said of his success. “You have multiple series and get to go out there and just play football.’

That wasn’t the case in the preseason, as the flow of the game was dictated by the need to keep players healthy. In those games, Thielen played one or two series before calling it a day.

“He’s harder on himself than anybody,” fellow receiver Stefon Diggs said. “He’s his biggest critic. He wants to be perfect. And I’m his brother, so I’m pushing him.”

Thielen didn’t disappoint in front of Sunday’s packed house. He made play after play, while being targeted a team-high 12 times.

His longest reception came midway through the third quarter when he caught the ball uncovered on the sideline and scampered for a 34-yard gain.

“They just didn’t cover him,” tight end Kyle Rudolph said, baffled that anybody would underestimate Thielen at this point in his career. “I don’t understand how someone can just not cover him. I would cover him if I was them. That was a huge play. That was big for us to move the ball.”

Those big plays are something the Vikings have grown to expect out of Thielen, though the 28-year-old Minnesotan expects a lot more out of himself.

“I don’t even know what I had today,” Thielen said. “I’m just thinking about the plays I didn’t make and the routes I could’ve ran better to help out Kirk a little bit. That’s the best part about winning. You can go back and be really critical and try to work on those things.”

“I go back to the plays we left on the field, too,” Cousins added, listing a handful of missed opportunities that he felt could have helped Thielen produce even bigger numbers. “He’s a great player. We have to find ways to get him the football because when the ball’s in his hands, good things happen.”