Just four games in, the Dalvin Cook era is on hold.
U.S. Bank Stadium seemed to hold its breath when Cook went down clutching his knee in the third quarter Sunday, as the Minnesota Vikings' first NFC North matchup of the season went from worrying misstep to catastrophic loss.
It's hard to project the exact affect Cook's loss will have on a Vikings' offense that has looked both ascendant and dysfunctional at times this season, but with two key players now shelved, their season seems to be hanging in the balance after just four games.
Backup quarterback Case Keenum struggled to move the ball consistently after lighting up the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in Week 3, completing just 16 passes for 219 yards against the Detroit Lions.
Stefon Diggs and Adam Thielen were once again an effective receiving tandem, while the Vikings' pass rush continued to make plays, but fumbles and missed opportunities haunted Minnesota until their final play.
Thielen lost a costly fumble with minutes to play that sealed the Vikings' fate, while Xavier Rhodes, Anthony Barr and Trae Waynes all missed out on would-be interceptions that could have changed the game.
Instead, the Vikings head to Chicago trailing the Lions and the Green Bay Packers for the division lead, with their running game in disarray and their starting quarterback nursing a nebulous knee injury.
Check out our top takeaways from Week 4. (Story | Photos)
PLAYER OF THE GAME
Danielle Hunter gets the nod here over fellow edge rusher Everson Griffen following a strong showing by the Vikings' pass rush. Hunter racked up two sacks, shrugging off Lions tackle Rick Wagner and flattening Matthew Stafford on the first play of the game. He saw action on 33 defensive snaps and pressured the quarterback six times per Pro Football Focus. The Vikings put pressure on Stafford throughout the afternoon, finishing with six sacks.
Associated PressBruce Kluckhohn
DON'T FORGET ABOUT ME
Even with the Vikings' offense struggling, Diggs managed to get his. He led both teams with five receptions for 98 yards, hooking up with Keenum on a 33-yard completion down the left sideline. The third-year receiver leads the NFL in receptions of at least 20 yards. The only other player with more than five? Thielen, who hauled in a 24-yard catch of his own on Sunday.
Cook was in the midst of another big play when his knee buckled, a moment that was alarming for just how suddenly it happened. The rookie seemed to deflate midstride, dropping the ball on an otherwise routine cut and immediately reaching for his knee as he went down. It was a gut-wrenching moment for a young back who had already broken one of predecessor Adrian Peterson's rookie records, and potentially a defining moment for the Vikings' season. ACL injuries aren't the worst-case scenario that they once were, but it's hard not to wonder how such an injury could change the trajectory of Cook's young career.
USA TODAY SportsBrad Rempel
We got a brief look at a Cook-less Vikings backfield in the second half, and it wasn't particularly promising. Murray out-snapped McKinnon 19-10, but gained just 21 yards on seven attempts, while McKinnon carried twice for no gain and fumbled with the Vikings in a bizarre Wildcat formation as he attempted to fake a handoff to Cook. Murray, who appeared to be the Vikings' pick to succeed Peterson heading into the draft, is averaging just 2.7 yards per carry on the season. It's not entirely fair to judge a running back's prospects based on a body of work as limited as Murray's has been this season, but Vikings fans are right to worry.
USA TODAY SportsReese Strickland
THEY SAID IT
"I just went in and talked to him. I told him he's not the first great running back to have an ACL, if it is one, and come back pretty good. Dalvin will have a great career." -- Vikings coach Mike Zimmer
"I thought the defense played their hearts out today. We didn't tackle in some certain situations as well as I would've liked, but they had their backs to the wall after those first two turnovers, and I thought they fought." -- Zimmer
"He started off strong. He is an excellent running back. I pray for him, that everything comes out negative. I just hope he bounces back." -- Vikings defensive end Everson Griffen
USA TODAY SportsReese Strickland
The Vikings head to Soldier Field looking to keep pace with the Lions and Packers atop the NFC North. They'll get first crack at Bears rookie Mitchell Trubisky, who will reportedly take over at quarterback next week following the Chicago's 35-14 loss to the Packers. Incumbent Mike Glennon tossed two interceptions against Green Bay, so it's hard to imagine that Trubisky won't be at least a marginal upgrade for the rebuilding Bears.