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Vikings’ Mackensie Alexander to have knee surgery, Stefon Diggs misses practice due to illness

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Minnesota Vikings cornerback Mackensie Alexander (20) attempts to tackle Green Bay Packers wide receiver Davante Adams (17) during the second quarter Monday night at U.S. Bank Stadium. Brace Hemmelgarn / USA TODAY Sport
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EAGAN, Minn. — The Vikings were shorthanded in the secondary against Drew Brees, and it didn’t cost them. Now, they’ll see how they stack up against Jimmy Garoppolo.

The Vikings defeated Brees and the New Orleans Saints 26-20 in a wild-card playoff game last Sunday at the Superdome without cornerbacks Mackensie Alexander, who was out with a knee injury, and Mike Hughes, who had been placed on injured reserve with a neck injury.

A source said Tuesday, Jan. 7, that Alexander will undergo arthroscopic knee surgery and miss Saturday’s divisional playoff game at San Francisco. So, the Vikings will be in the same predicament against Garoppolo, the 49ers’ talented young quarterback.

Not practicing for the Vikings on Tuesday were Alexander, receiver Stefon Diggs (illness), nose tackle Linval Joseph (knee) and safety Jayron Kearse (toe/knee). The report was called an “estimation” because the practice was a walk through.

The severity of Diggs’ illness was not known. It also remains to be seen if Kearse’s injury ends up further depleting the secondary.

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With Alexander and Hughes being the team’s the top two nickel backs, the Vikings turned to safety Andrew Sendejo, a nine-year veteran, to play that spot against the Saints for what he said was the first time in his career. He was in for 35 of the 56 defensive snaps and had a solid outing. Kearse also can play nickel but was not in for any plays from scrimmage at New Orleans.

Hughes had been in a cornerback rotation with Xavier Rhodes and Trae Waynes. Against the Saints, Rhodes was in for 48 plays and Waynes 53. Holton Hill got 14 snaps, and he vows to be ready if needed for more.

“Obviously, it’s never good when you lose your brothers and your teammates,” Hill said of the injuries. “It’s like the next man up, and it’s, like, no excuse. The next person has to be ready, and if I’m that guy, I’m going to take whatever role the team asks me to do and just play my part.”

Hollins' missed chance

The Vikings inserted undrafted rookie receiver Alexander Hollins into the lineup for one play Sunday, and it was almost a big one.

With 7:07 left in the game and the Vikings leading 20-17, they faced third-and-8 at their 39. Kirk Cousins threw a deep pass down the middle to Hollins, who had the ball before it slipped out of his hands following a hit by C.J. Gardner-Johnson.

“It was a good throw,” Hollins said. “I’ve just got to come down with the ball. The DB got a hand on it, but I’ve got to make that play. They put me in for that play, and they expect me to make that play.”

The Vikings activated Hollins, rather than Laquon Treadwell, for Sunday’s game, making him the fourth receiver. He impressed them by catching the first two passes of his career for 46 yards in the regular-season finale against Chicago.

“That was one that if we had lost, you’re really kicking yourself over not connecting on that one,” Cousins said of the incompletion. “When you win, you can forget about it, but either way it’s a play you want to be able to hit.”

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Mattison back to California

Rookie running back Alexander Mattison was out when the Vikings played Dec. 15 at the Los Angeles Chargers, not far from his native San Bernardino, Calif.

Mattison will take another trip back to California for Saturday’s game, but Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, Calif., is 400 miles from San Bernardino. Mattison is expected to have some supporters on hand, and he’s glad to be feeling good after suffering a high right ankle sprain Dec. 8 against Detroit.

The injury forced Mattison to miss the final three regular-season games. He returned to carry five times for 20 yards and have one catch for 10 yards at New Orleans.

“I felt good out there,” he said. “I warmed up the right way, prepared the right way, and so everything felt good.”

Briefly

Vikings offensive coordinator Kevin Stefanski was expected to interview this week for the Carolina head coaching position, but the Panthers decided to move quickly and hire Matt Ruhle away from Baylor on Tuesday. Stefanski is still expected to interview this week for Cleveland’s head coaching job.

The Vikings did some roster housecleaning Tuesday by waiving seven retired players off reserve lists. Let go were defensive backs Terence Newman and Asher Allen, defensive tackle Christian Ballard, wide receiver Lane Danielson, tight end Chad Fann, linebacker Jason Glenn and center Kenny Sandlin. Ballard quit the team unexpectedly during training camp in 2013.

The only players on San Francisco’s practice injury report Tuesday were defensive ends Dee Ford (quadriceps, hamstring) and Kentavius Street, and guard Mike Person (neck), all listed as limited.

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A short discussion regarding new rules and specials for the upcoming season will also take place.