MINNEAPOLIS — Stefon Diggs said a couple of weeks ago he isn’t one to deny rumors.
Well, here’s one that is becoming more fact than fiction: The young Vikings receiver can break open a game.
Diggs caught seven passes for 167 yards and three touchdowns in the Vikings’ 38-20 victory over Philadelphia at U.S. Bank Stadium. His big game came 10 days after a then-frustrated Diggs didn’t deny talk he wanted to be traded, saying, “There’s truth to all rumors.”
Diggs isn’t frustrated any longer. Since he missed a practice on Oct. 2 and was fined $200,000, the Vikings have won two straight games to raise their record to 4-2.
“I have been waiting patiently, preparing, because I think when opportunities come you just have to be prepared,” said Diggs, 25, a fifth-year receiver who had been used less this season in the offense.
On Sunday, Oct. 13, the Vikings went to Diggs early and often. He caught touchdown passes in the second quarter of 62 and 51 yards from Kirk Cousins to give the Vikings a 24-3 lead.
In the third quarter, when the Eagles had closed the deficit to 24-20, Diggs then caught his third touchdown pass, an 11-yarder from Cousins, to extend the lead to 31-20.
“When you get that guy going, watch out,” fellow star receiver Adam Thielen said. “We know we have to get him the ball because he is a special player and one of the best in the game.”
The Eagles (3-3) gave Diggs some single coverage. And it certainly helped the Vikings that Philadelphia’ secondary has been depleted by injuries.
Cousins completed 22 of 29 passes for 333 yards and four touchdowns. His performance came after Eagles linebacker and former Washington teammate Zach Brown called Cousins “the weakest part” of Minnesota’s offense on Friday.
“Maybe that linebacker who popped popping off ticked him off,” Vikings coach Mike Zimmer said.
Cousins, though, said he didn’t know about Brown’s comment until after the game. Brown didn’t have much to say Sunday about his comment, but did say the quarterback “did a great job.”
Cousins said the Vikings wanted to be “aggressive” against the Eagles, who came in leading the NFL in rushing defense at 63 yards per game but have had issues in pass coverage. Minnesota wasted no time in taking the opening drive 75 yards, which culminated in a 6-yard TD pass to Thielen for a 7-0 lead.
With the Vikings leading 10-3, Diggs got going. His 62-yard TD came on the second play of a drive and his 51-yarder on the only play of a drive.
“Starting fast is always a big thing because you want to hit the ground running,” Diggs said.
On a day in which offensive coordinator Kevin Stefanski called more creative plays than usual, Diggs did some running himself, turning two reverses into 18 yards of gain. He had a 10-yard run on Minnesota’s first drive and a 8-yarder late in the third quarter when he faked a throw.
“I like those kinds of plays (to) just kind of spice it up a little bit,” Diggs said.
Shortly after his second run, Cousins hit Diggs in the back of the end zone with a pass from 11 yards out.
“That was a key moment in the game,” Cousins said. “I cold feel the momentum slipping … I think that was crucial that our offense was able to grab some momentum back.”
Philadelphia got back in the game on a 32-yard TD pass from Carson Wentz to Miles Sanders midway through the second quarter and a 3-yard TD pass from Wentz to Alshon Jeffery on the first drive of the third quarter.
The Eagles might have been even closer had they not failed on a fake field goal with 20 seconds left in the first half. The snap went to kicker Jake Elliott, who threw a pass that defensive tackle Everson Griffen intercepted and returned 17 yards to the Minnesota 32.
It was one of three takeaways. In the fourth quarter, tight end Zach Ertz lost a fumble and Wentz had a pass picked off by safety Makensie Alexander.
“It was a team win,” linebacker Anthony Barr said. “The offense did a good job coming out …. We were able to get some turnovers on defense. On the special teams phase, we were able to flip the field position and keep points off the board.”
Against Philadelphia’s rugged run defense, Dalvin Cook, who came in averaging 108.4 yards per game, was held to 41 yards on 16 carries but did have a 1-yard TD run in the fourth quarter to close the scoring. Backup Alexander Mattison got lots of work in the second half, rushing for 50 his 63 yards as Minnesota finished with 122 on the ground.
Vikings runners averaged just 3.5 yards per carry. But they did enough to open things up for Diggs.
“I am proud of that guy for sticking in there because we haven’t been getting him the ball as much as previous years,” Cook said. “He has been a great teammate, and (Sunday) he was special for us.”