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Dalvin Cook’s latest starring performance a reminder of what once was with Adrian Peterson

El running back Dalvin Cook (33), de los Vikings de Minnesota, se aleja del linebacker Christian Jones, de los Lions de Detroit, durante la segunda mitad del encuentro de NFL el domingo 8 de noviembre de 2020, en Minneapolis. (AP Foto/Jim Mone)

MINNEAPOLIS — It was nearly impossible not to feel some level of conflict as Sunday’s game between the Detroit Lions and Minnesota Vikings played out at U.S. Bank Stadium. Dalvin Cook’s career-high 206 yards rushing on 22 carries served as the latest reminder of just how dominant the running back can be when he’s healthy. But, as brilliant as Cook was in the Vikings’ 34-20 victory over Detroit, it was equally as sad to watch Cook’s predecessor in purple, Adrian Peterson, continue to wind down his career with another sad performance.

The 35-year-old, who is now with his fourth team since leaving the Vikings after the 2016 season, rushed for 29 yards on eight carries, a week after gaining 7 yards on five carries in a loss to the Colts. Maybe it’s for financial reasons, or perhaps it’s because he really does think he can somehow make up the 3,789 yards that separate him and Emmitt Smith on the all-time rushing list, but Peterson simply refuses to accept the fact that every time he touches the ball he erases a little bit more of the greatness so many of us remember from his time with the Vikings.

Peterson ending his career (we assume) as a Detroit Lion looks as sad as it sounds. Fortunately, the Vikings now have a new and improved version of Peterson. Cook, in his fourth season, does everything that Peterson did and is a far more complete player. Pass protection was an issue for Peterson. It’s not for Cook. Catching the ball was never Peterson’s strength. Cook actually should be thrown the ball more often.

As Cook put together a second consecutive huge game on Sunday — he rushed for 163 yards on 30 carries with three touchdowns and caught two passes for 63 yards with a touchdown in a 28-22 victory last Sunday at Green Bay — one had to wonder what was going through Peterson’s mind. Peterson’s best days didn’t come in U.S. Bank Stadium, but they did come on the site of that stadium and there was a time when his presence provided the Vikings’ offense with the answers to many of its problems.

Aside from Brett Favre’s near MVP season in 2009 with the Vikings, Peterson played with a collection of quarterbacks whose primary job was to make sure they handed him the ball. Announcers used to love to talk about Peterson “running angry” because he enjoyed taking on opposing defenders and often won the battle. Peterson struggled with fumbling issues during his time with the Vikings, but he also ran for more than 1,000 yards seven times in 10 seasons, including an incredible 2,097 yards in 2012 when he was named the NFL’s MVP despite having torn his ACL late in the previous season.

Cook hasn’t come anywhere close to that territory yet — in part because he has missed time due to injury in each season of his career — but his 252 yards from scrimmage on Sunday established a career-high and he now leads the NFL with 858 yards rushing and 10 rushing touchdowns. Cook has accumulated those numbers in seven games, having missed the Vikings’ loss to Atlanta in Week 6. He also missed the second half of the previous week’s loss at Seattle after suffering a groin injury, so really Cook has played in 6.5 games.

If Peterson thought what he saw from the Vikings on Sunday looked familiar he wasn’t wrong. It appears that during the team’s bye week, coach Mike Zimmer and offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak might have gone back to the Peterson plan that was used for so long by former coach Brad Childress and offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell, who now holds the same job with the Lions.

The Vikings are 2-0 since the bye week, improving to 3-5 overall, and Cousins has thrown a total of 34 passes in the two games. Cousins’ 14 pass attempts last week in Green Bay were the second-fewest he has had since joining the Vikings in 2018 and his 20 attempts on Sunday were his third-fewest. The Cousins apologists attempted to say that his low total in Green Bay was a result of the wind that was howling in Lambeau, but there’s no wind in the indoor U.S. Bank Stadium and Cousins was still limited in how much he was allowed to throw.

Why? Because Cook, just like Peterson before him, now has his name atop the marquee for the Vikings and that means Zimmer would much prefer to win or lose games with Cook playing the leading role and Cousins serving as a game manager. The concern has to be that Cook’s injury history might catch up with him, but until it does he’s going to be asked to carry this offense.

That means his 32 touches against the Packers and 24 touches against the Lions — it would have been more if the game had been closer — will be the norm. Cook will be the focus of a pretty good Chicago defense next Monday night at Soldier Field, but are the Vikings really going to put the game in the hands of quarterback who is 0-9 on Monday nights in his career?

That is a decision that Zimmer and Kubiak will have to make this week as they attempt to devise a plan that will give the Vikings a third consecutive victory. But given how things have gone of late, and how much Zimmer loves the run game, don’t expect Zimmer and Kubiak to deviate from the Cook plan.

Last week, Peterson referred to Cook as a “lethal weapon,” a term that once could have been used to describe Peterson when he was wearing purple.

“Lethal weapon, yeah that made me feel great,” Cook said. “Like I said, I can’t say enough about him. We can sit here and I can tell you so much about him, how I feel about him. I’m just, if he hear this or he don’t, I’m just glad that I got a chance to watch him growing up as a young kid. To see that, it was something special for me. He don’t know how he impacted my career as far as a running back. I appreciate him for everything. Just for being my big brother for anything. All Day, just keep doing you, man, and I appreciate it.”