Dalvin Cook hobbled into a quiet locker room, a brace on his left knee, a set of crutches in his hands. The team feared the worst but awaited MRI results to know the extent of his injury. The mood was not optimistic.
Curses in sports don’t exist, but bad luck surely does and the Vikings continue to wade neck-deep in miserable luck.
Can anything else go wrong at this point?
Answer: Of course. It’s the Vikings. There’s always something else lurking around the corner.
The organization absorbed another haymaker to the gut Sunday when Cook planted to make a cut and immediately grabbed his left knee, dropping the football in pain.
The Vikings lost a divisional game to the Detroit Lions 14-7 after shooting themselves in the foot over and over with turnovers, miscommunications and sloppy play.
The loss became a sidebar to a larger story: Cook’s health and the concern that another franchise player suffered a serious injury.
Zimmer’s mood was grim afterward, saying the team fears Cook tore his anterior cruciate ligament, which would follow a sobering trend of negative health news.
First, Teddy Bridgewater’s knee caved on a routine drop-back in practice.
Then Adrian Peterson suffered a torn meniscus, basically ending his time in Minnesota.
Then Sam Bradford’s knee swelled up after one of the most prolific performances of his career.
And now the Vikings fear the worst for a dynamic rookie running back who, four games into his NFL career, might be his team’s best offensive talent.
Sadly, Zimmer knows the drill. He must pick up his players emotionally and soldier on because the NFL doesn’t pause when adversity strikes.
“Unfortunately, I’m getting used to it,” Zimmer said.
His players said all the right things about the NFL’s next-man-up mantra while expressing confidence in Cook’s backup, veteran Latavius Murray.
Players are programmed to think that way in a profession that demands never-flinch resolve. Human nature isn’t so easily fooled. These injuries aren’t routine, or insignificant.
Case Keenum is not Bradford’s equal. Cook is a special talent in ways that Murray can’t duplicate.
That doesn’t mean the Vikings can’t win with Keenum and Murray as replacements, but the full potential of the offense requires their best playmakers to be healthy and on the field.
“Dalvin is a really explosive player,” Zimmer said. “He has such great big-play ability. We’ll have to look at things differently. If you lose a guy like him, you lose a lot of firepower.”
Bradford’s status remains vague, leaving his timetable for return unknown. Keenum performed brilliantly last week, but the offense sputtered against the Lions amid turnovers and missed opportunities.
That wasn’t solely Keenum’s fault, of course. His best moments came when he was under duress and kept plays alive with his feet. He connected with Stefon Diggs on three completions of 20-plus yards by avoiding a sack as the pocket collapsed.
But the offense never established any kind of rhythm. Three fumbles and 3 of 10 on third down stalled drives, heaping too much stress on the defense. The Lions held a decisive edge in time of possession by nearly 13 minutes.
“It seemed like we’d get going and then we’d just putter out,” Keenum said.
The final two drives highlighted their issues. On third-and-goal from the 3, Keenum got “fooled” by the Lions alignment and changed his protection, which allowed defensive end Anthony Zettel to run free for a sack. That was a killer mistake.
Granted one final opportunity, Adam Thielen fumbled after an 11-yard reception.
Their mistakes were frustrating. Cook’s injury was deflating.
Zimmer reassured Cook after the game by reminding him that other running backs have suffered ACL injuries and resumed productive careers. Cook’s predecessor provided the best case study. Peterson won an MVP award following knee surgery.
The big picture doesn’t ease the immediate sting of more adversity. Injuries are unavoidable in the NFL, but the Vikings have been hit with some whoppers.
Next man up is a mindset, but losing franchise players never feels routine.