GREEN BAY, WIS. - In recent years, the Vikings have drafted running backs, hired and fired offensive coordinators, and offered an eight-figure contract based on an almost countercultural belief that they can base their offense around a forceful running game in an era in which teams are throwing the ball more frequently than ever.
They got Dalvin Cook back from a strained groin in time for Sunday’s game at Lambeau Field, intending to lean heavily on the Pro Bowler in a building where he ran for 154 yards a year ago.
On the first day of November, when swirling winds whipped through the empty stadium bowl at speeds of up to 40 miles per hour, the Vikings’ second — and undoubtedly their most prized — victory of the season became evidence for their thesis. It will be remembered for one of the greatest individual performances in the venerated stadium’s 63-year history.
No Viking — not Randy Moss, not Adrian Peterson — could claim to have done what Cook did at Lambeau on Sunday, when he turned an empty stadium and blustery conditions into his personal masterpiece.
He became the first player to surpass 200 yards from scrimmage and score four touchdowns at Lambeau Field, lifting the Vikings to a 28-22 victory, their first win in Green Bay since 2017.
Cook’s 226 yards (163 rushing, 63 receiving) tied Bill Brown for the fifth-highest single-game total in Vikings history. He tied Amari Cooper for the ninth-most yards a player has ever recorded against the Packers; only Darrin Nelson (256 in 1983) has posted more yards in a game against Green Bay in a Vikings uniform.
“Just a great player, dynamic player,” quarterback Kirk Cousins said. “We’re always trying to find ways to get him the football. I think of a third-and-long early in the game when I check it down to him and he gets us the first down in the high red zone area; I believe we ended up getting a touchdown that possession.
“Even those little plays, they keep us on the field, make a big difference, so it’s not just running the ball, it’s getting involved with the ball in his hands, whether it’s catching the ball or running it.”
Cook danced through the Packers defense from the first drive of the game. He tied the score 7-7 with a 21-yard touchdown run behind a block off the right side of the Vikings line from tight end Irv Smith Jr. in the first quarter. Cook’s second and third scores were from 1 yard out, the latter giving the Vikings a 21-14 lead in the third quarter.
About four minutes later, with the Vikings facing a third-and-9 from midfield, Cousins flipped a screen pass to Cook, who turned upfield behind a cut block from Garrett Bradbury and split the game open with a spellbinding 50-yard score.
“It’s been the opposite for us all year,” Cook said. “In the first game of the year, they came out and controlled the time of possession by more than 20 minutes, I think. So it was the opposite for us. Just us going out there and matching score for score at the beginning was an ideal situation for us going into the halftime. That was big. But that time of possession and keeping Aaron Rodgers off the field as much as we can, that was big. The running game was big today.”
The running back was quick to complement the blockers that helped him carry the Vikings offense and make life easier for Cousins on a day where swirling winds turned Lambeau Field’s 120 yards of green grass into a track that had to be navigated like a major championship golf course.
Two hours before game time, as Cousins warmed up in a sweatshirt and pants, Vikings equipment managers Dennis Ryan, Adam Groene, Terrell Barnes and Aaron Neumann were feeding the quarterback information like caddies.
“It was coming in from one end zone — you could see the flags at the top of the stadium, but then when you’re on the field, it was actually swirling and flipping,” Cousins said. “The way we were going in the fourth quarter was actually the challenge, and the way we were going in the third quarter was the preferred way to be going, but it was actually the opposite of the flags at the top of the stadium, so you were just kind of always paying attention to it and being aware of it, and usually you just trust your instinct when you’re playing with the wind. It was a challenge today, especially then when you add the temperature.”
The Packers (5-2), without running back Aaron Jones and left tackle David Bakhtiari, ran only seven times in the second half while playing from behind after an 81-yard first half. But while Rodgers missed several downfield throws while navigating the wind, Vikings coach Mike Zimmer feverishly tried to cobble together a secondary that could hold up against the opponent he holds in higher esteem than any.
Rookie cornerback Cameron Dantzler was taken off the field on a stretcher on the final play of the first quarter, when his head collided with Anthony Harris’ leg on an A.J. Dillon run. Dantzler went to a hospital to be evaluated for a neck injury and possible concussion, but Zimmer said after the game Dantzler was feeling good enough to be released from the hospital and rejoin his teammates for the trip home.
Without Dantzler, the Vikings turned to rookies Jeff Gladney and Harrison Hand, second-year man Kris Boyd and practice squad addition Mark Fields. Fields was injured in the third quarter; Boyd left because of injury with 3:15 to go and the Packers trying to erase a two-score deficit.
By the end of the game, the Vikings had three rookies in the secondary, with Josh Metellus stepping in at safety after Harris had to shift from safety to nickel corner.
“I think I got to get some of that — what’s that hair for men stuff called to get the gray hairs back out?” Zimmer said. “It was very, very hectic on the sideline today.”
Just barely, it was enough for a win.
Rodgers hit Davante Adams for his third touchdown of the day with 2:47 to go, and the Packers converted a two-point conversion to make it 28-22. But after getting the ball back in the final minute, the Packers wasted precious time trying to get enough men on the line of scrimmage after Rodgers hit Robert Tonyan at the Vikings 41. The quarterback frantically motioned Jamaal Williams up to the line of scrimmage before he could spike the ball with 13 seconds left.
Rodgers rolled right to try a throw to the end zone on the final play, and rookie D.J. Wonnum sacked him from behind, forcing a game-ending fumble.
The Vikings’ second victory of the year, at the beginning of a three-game stretch against NFC North opponents, sent their coach home hopeful he could use the frenzied experience as a teaching tool.
His virtuosic running back, wearing sunglasses in a locker room protected from the elements, took it as a statement.
“That’s Coach Zim football right there,” Cook said. “That’s all I can say. That’s Coach Zim’s identity and that’s the type of football we play in Minnesota.”