Next man up: Cousins, Cook dominate Lions with Thielen out

Minnesota Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins (8) throws to the sidelines during the Detroit Lions versus Minnesota Vikings game on Sunday October 20, 2019 at Ford Field in Detroit, MI. ((Photo by Steven King/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images))

The importance of Sunday’s 42-30 win over the Detroit Lions on Sunday at Ford Field isn’t lost on the Minnesota Vikings. In fact, it could end up being one of their biggest wins of the season if they end up being a playoff team.

The Vikings avoided an 0-3 start on the road in the NFC North Division, kept pace with the Green Bay Packers in the division and got their second road win of the season. Kirk Cousins, in front of several family and friends in his native Michigan, had one of his best games as a Viking with 337 yards and four touchdowns.

Cousins completed passes to seven different receivers in Sunday’s win.

“That’s really nothing new to me. That’s Kirk, that’s what he do. That’s my quarterback, I’m just happy to be playing with that guy, special guy,” said running back Dalvin Cook, who ran for 142 yards and two touchdowns. “Once he’s locked in, I think it’s a scary sight.”

The Vikings’ offensive balance Sunday was especially impressive when you consider star receiver Adam Thielen missed the rest of the game after his only catch, a 25-yard touchdown, in the first quarter.

That meant next man up for the Vikings. Or in Sunday’s case, next men up. Irv Smith Jr., Kyle Rudolph and Bisi Johnson combined for 14 catches for 158 yards and two touchdowns.

Rudolph caught his first touchdown of the season, Johnson recorded his first career touchdown and C.J. Ham got his first career receiving touchdown.

“That’s kind of our mentality is next man up. We have so many weapons on this team, which is a good problem to have. When somebody goes down, we know that somebody else is going to step up,” Ham said.

It was a special day for Johnson. He caught his first unofficial touchdown in the preseason at New Orleans. Not only does his score Sunday count as his first career touchdown, it tied the game 14-14 in the second quarter.

He said Monday he’s received several congratulatory text messages since the play, one of four catches for him on the day. What mattered to the most was getting the win.

“It was a lot of fun. Able to celebrate with my teammates after and then get a huge win. That was the biggest thing,” Johnson said.

At the end of the day, the win comes back to Cousins and Cook. Since losing Week 4 at Chicago, Cousins has thrown for 976 yards, 10 touchdowns and just one interception. He finished with a 141.4 quarterback rating on Sunday.

The arsenal was on full display in front of several family and friends in his native Michigan. The play that epitomized the day for Cousins came on a deep ball to Stefon Diggs that set up Cook’s second touchdown. With time winding down in regulation and the Vikings needing a first down to run the clock out, Cousins went deep to Diggs in play-action for 67 yards.

"He’s played very well. He’s playing the best I’ve seen him play since he’s been here, obviously. It’s a credit to him, it’s a credit to the offensive coaches what they’re doing, I feel like we’re playing to his strength," Vikings coach Mike Zimmer said of Cousins after the win.

Diggs finished the day with seven catches for 142 yards. Just two weeks ago, Diggs had 167 yards and touchdowns of 62, 51 and 11 yards.

So what’s making the play-action game so successful? Having Cook, the NFL rushing leader, helps. He’s got five 100-yard games this season and his 725 rushing yards through seven games is the best in football by 10 yards over Leonard Fournette. Cook is averaging 5.5 yards per carry.

The Vikings had a season-high 503 yards of total offense Sunday.

“We’ve got guys on the outside that can pretty much take the top off this thing and change the scoreboard at any given time. You’ll see that each and every week,” Cook said.