What if Vikings receiver Adam Thielen, on COVID reserve list, can’t play vs. Panthers?

Minnesota Vikings wide receiver Adam Thielen (19) runs the ball after a catch against the Chicago Bears during the second quarter at Soldier Field on Monday, Nov. 16, 2020. Thielen had two touchdown receptions in the 19-13 win. Mike Dinovo /USA TODAY Sports

In a perfect world for the Vikings, star receiver Adam Thielen will be able to suit up for Sunday’s game against the Carolina Panthers.

He was placed on the COVID reserve list Tuesday, Nov. 24, after initially returning a positive test, though according to NFL Network’s Tom Pelissero , he later returned a negative test. That said, Thielen must remain away from TCO Performance Center in Eagan, Minn., for the time being, which puts his availability for for the next game in question.

Asked about Thielen’s status on Wednesday, coach Mike Zimmer responded, “Obviously he’s in the COVID protocol, and we’ll see.”

In the meantime, the Vikings must prepare as if Thielen won’t be able to play. That likely would mean rookie receiver Justin Jefferson gets more attention than usual. Not that he seemed too concerned.

“It doesn’t matter what they play,” Jefferson said. “We still have to find a way to get playmakers the ball and move the ball downfield.”


That will be easier said than done without Thielen. He has 49 receptions for 646 yards and a league-leading 11 receiving touchdowns this season. He also has been especially dynamic in the red zone, where he has made one-handed grabs look effortless in each of the past two games.

“He’s sure-handed,” Jefferson said. “His catching ability is phenomenal. He’s able to make those hard catches that he has to adjust to. He can also get his feet down in the end zone as well. He’s got the toe tap.”

For the Vikings, the game plan doesn’t change much with or without Thielen. They still want to establish star running back Dalvin Cook, first and foremost, and take some deep shots when given the chance. That has remained the focus this week in practice.

“We will go about our business the same way,” quarterback Kirk Cousins said. “We have had other people out during practices and tried to change things, and that’s just been kind of part of managing the virus. You deal with injuries, too. We lost Adam last year as well for several weeks, so it’s kind of part of the process of going through the season.”

There could be more chances for lesser-used receivers like Chad Beebe and Bisi Johnson. Maybe veteran Tajae Sharpe will see some action.

“Just next man up,” Jefferson said. “We have a good receiver core that can step up in his place and make some plays. If he so happens to be not playing, then it’s next guy up, and we’re just relying on them to fill that spot in.”

Asked if he thinks his role will increase if Thielen does miss more practice time over even the game, Jefferson didn’t want to speculate.

“I try not to really think of it that way,” Jefferson said. “I just try to do whatever is asked of me. I just really want to go out there and make those plays. Whatever ball Kirk throws to me, I’m trying to go up and catch that ball. Just ready to catch the ball whenever it comes to me.”

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