Vikings beat Lions 34-20 to get first home win of 2020

Irv Smith Jr. #84 of the Minnesota Vikings catches a touchdown pass while covered by Desmond Trufant #23 of the Detroit Lions at U.S. Bank Stadium on November 08, 2020 in Minneapolis, Minnesota. ((Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images))

The Minnesota Vikings have a formula when it comes to winning games with Mike Zimmer: Run the football, make things easy for the quarterback, win the line of scrimmage and play sound defense.

In a 1-5 start, they weren’t executing in enough areas for that formula to work. It came together in a 28-22 win over Green Bay at Lambeau Field last week. Sunday, the Vikings played their most complete game of the season in a 34-20 win over the Detroit Lions at U.S. Bank Stadium.

The win ends an 0-3 start at their home facility, typically filled with more than 65,000 screaming fans. They’ve learned to generate their own energy in a quiet, empty stadium due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The Vikings improve to 3-5. Three out of the next four games are at home, and the opponent’s combined record over that stretch is 6-17. There’s still plenty to fight for in terms of the postseason with eight games to play.

“When you’re sitting there at 1-5, everything is collapsing. You’re getting ready to jump off a cliff. You beat Green Bay and you start to get a little juice, you beat Detroit, now you start to get a little more juice,” Vikings coach Mike Zimmer said after the win.

The Vikings are going to lean on their best players to get there. Dalvin Cook ran for a career-high 206 yards and two touchdowns, and added 46 yards in the screen game.

For now, Cook leads the NFL in rushing at 858 yards, despite missing one game and half of another with a groin injury. He also leads the NFL with 12 rushing touchdowns, and has a rushing touchdown in every game he’s played this season. Cook is the first Vikings’ running back to go for more than 200 yards in a game since Adrian Peterson did it five years ago, and the third in team history, joining Peterson and Chuck Foreman.

“Just turning it loose, just trying to do it all for my team and get a win. We started this thing behind the 8-ball and we lost some games that we wasn’t supposed to lose. Deep in, we know that. We’re just trying to play catch up and I’m just trying to give my team a fighting chance,” Cook said.

Behind a physical offensive line, the Vikings piled up 487 yards and gashed the Lions for 275 yards on the ground. Kirk Cousins threw for 220 yards and three touchdowns, and the Vikings have life again after a dismal start to 2020.

“Coming out of the bye at 1-5, my thought process was we have 10 football games left guaranteed to us. Those 10 are going to tell the story, probably far more than the 1-5 start. The second half is going to tell the story far more than the first half, so we need to have the best second half we possibly can,” Cousins said.

Zimmer preached all week leading up to Sunday’s game to play with energy early. The defense delivered with stops, and the offense put up points. Cook’s first touchdown from 6 yards out gave the Vikings an early 7-0 lead. Cousins later hit Irv Smith Jr. for a 9-yard score as Minnesota built a 13-0 lead.

Detroit answered with 10 straight points, and the Vikings got the ball back with 1:04 left in the half to try for one more score. The Vikings went on an 87-yard drive, needing six plays. Cook accounted for 49 yards himself, and Cousins hit Ameer Abdullah on a screen that turned into a 22-yard touchdown. Minnesota had a 20-10 lead at the break, and had the ball to start the third quarter.

Cousins hit Smith for his second score of the day, giving the Vikings a 27-10 lead with 7:50 left in the third.

With a 27-13 lead, the Vikings went back to their best player for the knockout punch. Cook made one defender miss and was gone for a 70-yard touchdown, and a 34-13 lead. He averaged 9.4 yards per carry, caught two passes and helped make key blocks on other offensive plays.

“Dalvin is a tremendous player because it doesn’t matter to him. Obviously he wants to get 200 yards every game. He’s going to do all the dirty work. He’s going to do everything, that’s why he’s a captain, that’s why he comes to work every single day. Guys in the locker room really love him,” Zimmer said.

The defense also did its part Sunday. Matthew Stafford, who didn’t practice all week and was on the reserve/COVID-19 list after coming in close contact with a carrier, threw for 211 yards and one touchdown, but was intercepted by both Eric Wilson and Eric Kendricks. Wilson has three interceptions this season, which leads NFL linebackers. He also led the defense with 13 tackles and a half sack.

Stafford was also sacked twice, and had to leave the game to be checked for a concussion after being hit by Shamar Stephen and Hercules Mata’afa. Chase Daniel came in, and was picked off by Harrison Smith. The Lions ran for 129 yards on the day, but a defense without Cameron Dantzler, Holton Hill and Mark Fields stood tough. With Jeff Gladney, Kris Boyd and Chris Jones the available defensive backs, Detroit managed 5.7 yards per play and the Vikings made enough stops.

“Just coming out the gate playing as a team and playing fast. If we execute our calls, we’re tough,” Gladney said.

Sunday marked the return of Adrian Peterson and Everson Griffen to Minneapolis. Peterson finished with eight carries for 29 yards, and three catches for 14 yards. Griffen, in his first game with the Lions, had three tackles in limited defensive snaps.

The day was about Cook, while he deferred after the game to his teammates and coaches. They’re 3-5 with two straight division wins, and a chance for a third next Monday night in Chciago.

“Them guys up front, they’re going to go home today with a lot of confidence that we can run the football. That’s what it’s all about,” Cook said. “I think we’ve got the confidence going into Monday Night Football.”