Upon Further Review: Cook, Vikings grind out win over Washington

The headlines leading up to a Thursday night clash between Minnesota and Washington were all about the quarterbacks.

It was Kirk Cousins, a fourth-round draft pick that Washington took a chance on but refused to commit to long term, and Case Keenum, the journeyman quarterback who delivered a magical season for the Vikings in 2017 but never earned the approval of head coach Mike Zimmer, on the field facing the franchises that turned them down.

However, after all those questions and stories and podcasts and clicks, the game was decided on the ground.

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Wearing their color rush “primetime purple” jerseys, the Vikings let running back Dalvin Cook take over and watched as he bulldozed his way to 171 total yards and a rather ugly 19-9 victory.

It had the feeling of a grind-it-out game from the start. The Vikings and Redskins exchanged fumbles on both of their first drives and made two field goals apiece before Cook found the end zone late in the first half. Minnesota inched away with two more field goals after the intermission and slammed the door with a commanding eight-minute drive to end the game.

The Vikings missed injured wide receiver Adam Thielen badly. The passing game was effective but not explosive — Cousins threw for 285 yards and completed 23 of 26 pass attempts, although he was sacked three times.

Minnesota’s defense wasn’t spectacular either, but like the passing game, did enough to win. Washington went without a touchdown for the third time in the past five weeks.

So, what does the Vikings’ latest triumph mean? Minnesota has reached the postseason twice under Zimmer. In both of those campaigns, the Vikings started 2-2 and went on a winning streak — five straight in 2015 and eight straight in 2017. Now in 2019, Zimmer’s squad started slow at 2-2 and have rattled off four consecutive victories.

Maybe it’s an odd year thing.

Here’s a full recap of Thursday’s game:

PLAYER OF THE GAME

It was obvious the Vikings’ game plan was to get the ball to Cook and let him go to work. Out of the Vikings’ 67 offensive plays, Cook had 28 touches (as well as one target that fell incomplete), meaning the running back was utilized on 43.2% of Minnesota’s plays. And this is with backup Alexander Mattison getting 13 carries himself. Cook rushed 23 times for 98 yards (4.3 average) and a score. He also piled up five catches for 73 yards, including a 31-yard gain on a screen pass that, by our count, saw the back make six — yes, SIX — defenders miss. On one play. Incredible.

When Cook crossed the goal line in the second quarter for his league-leading ninth rushing touchdown, he tied a franchise record for the most scores on the ground through the first eight games of a season. Cook is also the NFL’s leading rusher with 823 yards (although he’s played two more games than Christian McCaffrey due to Carolina having had its bye and Minnesota playing Thursday on a short week).

DON’T FORGET ABOUT ME

The Vikings would’ve been in a heap of trouble without kicker Dan Bailey. When Minnesota’s drives stalled near or in the red zone, Bailey was automatic. He was a perfect 4-for-4 on field-goal attempts Thursday night and split the uprights on his lone extra-point attempt as well. Believe it or not, that’s the first game in the Zimmer era that a Vikings kicker has made 4+ field goals without missing at least one field-goal or extra-point attempt. And you wonder why the man doesn’t sleep at night.

THAT MOMENT

Keenum wasn’t the only former Vikings hero to return to Minneapolis. Adrian Peterson received a loud standing ovation from the U.S. Bank Stadium crowd in the fourth quarter after it was announced the 34-year-old was now the NFL’s sixth all-time leading rusher. Peterson had himself a decent game in front of his longtime fans, totaling 103 yards on 16 touches while giving the crowd a glimpse or two of a vintage Peterson cut-back move.

THIS NUMBER

0 — It was a boring night for Britton Colquitt. The Vikings didn’t punt once. That’s right, zero. Zip. Zilch. Nada. That marked the first time Minnesota went through an entire game without punting since Oct. 17, 2004 — a 38-31 win over New Orleans in which Daunte Culpepper threw five touchdowns and committed three turnovers. On Thursday night, Minnesota scored on five possessions (four field goals, one touchdown), fumbled the ball away once and handed it over on downs twice.

THEY SAID IT

“Dalvin made some great runs, I thought [Alexander] Mattison made some great runs, but none of it could happen without the way the offensive line continues to fight and scratch and open up some seams.” — Vikings coach Mike Zimmer.

“We could easily be worse; we could easily be better. We’re 6-2. I think we have got everything in front of us, and we got to go out and prove it the second half of the season.” — Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins.

“They welcomed me with open arms and just showed the love that they have and they had for over a decade. So it was a special moment. I had to hold tears back, to be honest with you. But, yeah, it was special, a special moment.” — former Vikings running back Adrian Peterson.

WHAT’S NEXT

The going gets tough for the red-hot Vikings. Zimmer and company will be tested in back-to-back weeks with road contests against division leaders Kansas City (5-2) and Dallas (4-3). The big storyline to watch ahead of the Vikings-Chiefs game in Week 9 is the status of reigning MVP Patrick Mahomes. When Mahomes dislocated his kneecap last week, it was widely reported that the quarterback was expected miss significant time. However, Mahomes was already practicing with the Chiefs again Thursday and has a chance to start Sunday night against Green Bay. Keep an eye on that one.