All-time great Adrian Peterson was good. But Dalvin Cook, the NFL’s greatest back in 2019, was better as the Vikings’ present and future beat Peterson, the team’s one-dimensional past and an anemic Washington offense 19-9 at U.S. Bank Stadium on Thursday night.
In a 171-yard performance from scrimmage, Cook had a 12-minute second-quarter burst that showcased some of the dominance that Peterson had in his prime and the versatility the modern game demands and has eluded Peterson during an otherwise first-ballot Hall of Fame career.
“You got to be able to catch the football and make plays,” said Cook, who had five catches for 73 yards (14.6 yards per catch) and 23 carries for 98 yards (4.3 per carry) and a touchdown.
“You just can’t sit back there and hand the football off in today’s game. Defenses just pin their ears back, stuff the box and come after you. But when they have to defend all the green grass with me catching the football, it makes it hard on them.”
With the game tied 3-3, right tackle Brian O’Neill was called for holding. That negated a 6-yard run by Cook.
The next play was a screen to Cook. He went for 18 yards, setting up a 34-yard completion to Stefon Diggs on second-and-2.
“The guys up front cut some guys down and I seen a crease and tried to hit it as fast as possible,” Cook said. “They kind of gave me some space to make some plays. Got to credit the O-line for getting out there and getting guys on the ground and creating some open space.”
That led to another field goal. Eight plays later, after Washington tied the game again, Cook caught another screen pass and turned it into a 15-yard gain and a first down.
He wasn’t finished on that drive. Two plays later, he took a screen from 2 yards behind the line of scrimmage and turned it into a 31-yard gain down to the 8-yard line.
Asked what he was looking for as he was gliding laterally downfield, Cook said, “I was looking for a touchdown. I was trying to score. That be my mind-set all the time when I get in open space.”
He ended up going out of bounds, he said, because he “ran out of gas.” No problem. Three plays later, he scored the game’s only touchdown on a 4-yard run.
So in a span of 14 snaps, he had all three of his explosive plays off screens and a league-leading ninth rushing touchdown that tied Peterson and Chuck Foreman for the most by a Viking through eight games in franchise history.
Peterson, 10 years older than Cook, had 103 yards from scrimmage. He had 76 yards rushing on 14 carries (5.4) and two catches for 27 yards.
He also had three explosive plays: A 14-yard run while seemingly trapped by two defenders in the backfield; a 29-yard run and a team-high 21-yard reception.
The 29-yard run vaulted Peterson past Hall of Famers Jerome Bettis and LaDainian Tomlinson into sixth place on the NFL’s career rushing list.
Ahead of him are Emmitt Smith, Walter Payton, Barry Sanders, Frank Gore and Curtis Martin. All but the still-active Gore are Hall of Famers.
At the two-minute warning of the second half, Peterson was shown on the big screens inside U.S. Bank Stadium. Fans cheered and Peterson waved and blew a kiss.
But the night belonged to the next generation and Cook’s more versatile skill set. Cook now has a league-leading 823 rushing yards and 1,116 yards from scrimmage.
He’s the fourth Viking to surpass 1,000 yards from scrimmage in eight games or fewer to start a season.
“Dalvin is a great player,” coach Mike Zimmer said. “He can do pretty much anything he needs to do. We thought we had an opportunity to get some screens in tonight. That showed up quite a few times. So that was one of our goals was to get some big plays on screens.”