MINNEAPOLIS — Dalvin Cook didn’t take long to put his mark on the Vikings’ 28-12 season-opening victory over Atlanta on Sunday at U.S. Bank Stadium. On the Vikings’ first play from scrimmage, the running back took a handoff and gained 13 yards to the Falcons’ 8-yard line.
There was only one problem. Tight end Kyle Rudolph was called for holding, wiping out Cook’s gain. No worries. Quarterback Kirk Cousins immediately completed an 8-yard pass to Cook and the Vikings scored a touchdown on the next play to take the lead.
That started one of the best days of Cook’s three-year NFL career. He finished with 111 yards rushing on 21 carries (a 5.3 average) and two touchdowns and caught two passes for nine yards.
“It was a great start,” said Cook, who missed the final 12 weeks of his rookie season because of a torn ACL and missed five games last season because of a hamstring injury. “It was good to set the pace for the season.”
There was an expectation that when Gary Kubiak was hired as the Vikings’ assistant head coach and offensive advisor during the offseason that Cook would be one of the big beneficiaries. That was confirmed on Sunday as Cook had more carries than he did in any one game last season — he played in 11 — and his 121 yards on the ground were more than he had in all but one game in 2018.
Cook had 136 yards and two touchdowns — his only two rushing scores of the season — in a victory over Miami in December. That was his only 100-yard rushing game of the season and the second of his career. He had 127 yards on 22 carries in his NFL debut on Sept. 11, 2017 against New Orleans.
The Dolphins game was the first in which Kevin Stefanski served as the Vikings’ interim offensive coordinator after John DeFilippo was fired. Stefanski remains the team’s OC, working with Kubiak.
“We know that’s the strength of our team. We know we have one of the best running backs in the NFL, if not the best,” said Vikings wide receiver Adam Thielen, who caught three passes for 43 yards and a touchdown. “And we know we have an offensive line that can just ground and pound. We’re very fortunate there and we’ve got to continue to do those things because that will only help this team. That’s what Coach (Mike) Zimmer wants our identity to be and that’s what we’re going to make it.”
The Vikings running game accounted for 172 yards on 38 carries as rookie Alexander Mattison had 49 yards on nine attempts. Cousins only attempted 10 passes in the game — in part because the Vikings had a 21-0 lead at halftime that got as big as 28-0 before the Falcons finally scored in the fourth quarter.
“Dalvin’s a great player,” Zimmer said. “His feet are amazing. A couple of those plays were designed to go inside and he just outran the perimeter. He’s a terrific weapon for us. Obviously we’ll have to continue to use him to the best of our ability.”
Said Cousins: “I think we need the ‘White Tiger’ to be there for 16 games, right? He’s been special when he’s had the football in his hands, and we’ve got to have him out there. So it’ll be key. It’s a long season, and adversity always hits at some point, and the mature teams and great teams find a way to still get it done. Whatever that adversity is, we’ve just got to be ready and respond.”
If Cook can play all 16 games for the first time in his NFL career, it likely will be easier for the Vikings to fight through that adversity.
“When I’m on field, a lot of special things can happen,” Cook said. “I just got to stay on the field, that’s the main goal. Just being available for my team to help win football games and being out here with these guys is fun. That’s why I work extremely hard in the offseason (and) in training camp to be out here with these guys, so I can have fun with these guys. Today was a great start.”