MINNEAPOLIS - The Minnesota Vikings made a statement Sunday night with a 28-24 win in prime time, on the national stage on the road against a Dallas Cowboys team that will likely be in the NFC Playoffs.
They did so with Mike Zimmer’s bread-and-butter: Running the football. Riding Dalvin Cook, the Vikings got a win at AT&T Stadium to avoid their first losing streak of the season and keep pace with the Green Bay Packers in the NFC North Division.
The Vikings return home to face the Denver Broncos (3-6), who are coming off their week off before Minnesota gets its own bye. Here are takeaways from Sunday’s win.
Kendricks, Kearse make big plays
The stats might not be the prettiest for the Vikings defense, but they did enough to get a big win Sunday night. Dak Prescott threw for 397 yards and three touchdowns against the Vikings, but Eric Kendricks and Jayron Kearse made the big plays in the big moments on the national stage.
Facing a 4th-and-5 deep in Minnesota territory, Prescott was trying to find Ezekiel Elliott for a first down. The pass was knocked away by Eric Kendricks, who’s been a defensive standout for the Vikings all season. He leads the team with 80 tackles through 10 games, and sniffed out the pass to Elliott in the fourth quarter for a huge stop.
With one play left and the TV broadcast talking about Drew Pearson’s infamous push-off against the Vikings, Kearse made a big play to seal the win. Prescott heaved a Hail Mary to the end zone, and Kearse used his 6-4 frame to high point the football and pick if off. It’s a positive moment for the fourth-year veteran, a few weeks removed from an arrest for allegedly driving drunk the weekend after the Vikings beat the Redskins on Thursday Night Football.
Dalvin Cook carries the load
Dalvin Cook has emerged as one of the best players in the NFL, and Mike Zimmer put the ball in his hands when it mattered the most on Sunday. Cook finished the night with 97 yards on 20 carries, and he’s nine short of 1,000 yards rushing for the season through 10 games. He was also the Vikings’ leading receiver with seven catches for 86 yards.
The Vikings ended the third quarter with a drive that featured 10 straight runs. On 4th-and-goal from the 1, Cook scored behind a huge block from C.J. Ham. Zimmer trusted his running back, and he came through in a huge spot. The Vikings needed a touchdown there, not three points. Cook now has 1,415 total yards through 10 games. He’s averaging 141.5 total yards per game this season.
After playing just 15 games combined his first two seasons, the Vikings will ride their star running back as much as they can this season. And they should.
Kirk Cousins wins in prime time
We know the narrative by now. Kirk Cousins, despite the $84 million pay check, struggles under the bright lights of prime time. He got his third win as a Vikings’ starter in the national spotlight on Sunday, and he stayed within himself in doing so. He finished 23-of-32 for 220 yards, two touchdowns to Kyle Rudolph and a 111.5 rating. He was only sacked once and helped lead the Vikings to a win without Adam Thielen.
Just two weeks ago, Cousins was named the NFC Player of the Month for October after throwing for nearly 1,000 yards, 10 touchdowns, just one interception and leading the Vikings to four straight wins. Cousins silenced the doubters, if only for one week.
Kyle Rudolph’s big night
Kyle Rudolph is making plays for the Vikings’ offense with Adam Thielen out nursing a hamstring injury. The stats Sunday won’t jump off the page at you. He finished with four catches for 14 yards. Two of them went for touchdowns, one on a 1-handed catch while tight-roping the back line of the end zone. He had another catch for a two-point conversion after the Vikings had 10 straight runs, capped by Cook’s touchdown on 4th-and-goal at the 1. Rudolph’s catch gave the Vikings a 28-21 lead going into the fourth quarter.
After making just six catches in the first five games, Rudolph has 18 catches and four touchdowns in his last five games.
The Vikings are 7-3 with the Denver Broncos in town, looking to go 8-3 before their bye week and are in the thick of the NFC Playoff picture with six games to go.