HOUSTON – The Vikings ran 65 offensive plays Sunday. Two deserve special attention. One run, one pass, both Picassos.

Dalvin Cook’s 7-yard touchdown run in the first half and Justin Jefferson’s 25-yard catch in the second half.

The Vikings won for the first time this season, 31-23 over the winless Houston Texans, for a multitude of reasons. At the top of the list were those two plays produced by those two players.

Cook and Jefferson. A pair of special talents in a league with elite athletes.

“Obviously Dalvin is a really good football player,” coach Mike Zimmer said.

“Jefferson is showing why we took him at that pick,” Cook said of the first-round selection and his new tag-team partner.

Both backed up career performances a week ago in a loss with outings that in many ways were more impressive in helping the Vikings avoid another sour outcome.

Cook rushed for 130 yards and two touchdowns on 27 carries after posting a career-high 181 yards against Tennessee last week.

Jefferson caught four passes for 103 yards, and all four completions covered at least 23 yards.

Raw numbers don’t do their contributions justice. The beauty lies in the effort required in achieving those statistics.

Cook spent the game pinballing off defenders, constantly fighting for extra yards, when it looked as if he had nowhere to go. He gained a large percentage of his yards after initial contact.


He played the role of escape artist on his second touchdown run, the 7-yarder in the second quarter.

The play sent Cook up the middle into a pile of bodies. Three defenders got a hand on him, the last guy dragging him toward the ground. Cook stayed on his feet, using his left arm to keep his balance.

Once steadied, Cook bounced outside and then stiff-armed a cornerback out of his way at the 3-yard line to create a path to the end zone.

“Dalvin has great heart,” Zimmer said.

He showed a little bit of everything on that run. Heart. Balance. Strength. Explosiveness. Determination.

“That’s the striking zone,” Cook said. “We’re just scratching and clawing trying to win.”

The day provided more evidence that the Vikings made a wise investment in giving Cook a lucrative contract extension on the eve of the season. The running back position has been devalued in the modern NFL, but a player with game-changing talent should never be minimized or devalued.

Alexander Mattison is a fine backup. He’s not Dalvin Cook.

The Vikings offense can be explosive and high-scoring with a run-first focus because Cook’s skill set creates that possibility. His speed to the perimeter stresses defenses, but his power in breaking tackles at the line — or in the backfield — turns potential negative plays into positive gains that prevent drives from being doomed. That’s a special quality.

The rookie receiver looks like a budding star, too.

Mostly a bystander his first two games, Jefferson has emerged as a deep threat and big-play target who will take defensive game-planning and focus off Adam Thielen.

One play underscored just how much Jefferson’s role in the offense has shifted the past two weeks. Early fourth quarter, the Vikings faced a third-and-6 clinging to a 24-16 lead.

Texans cornerback Phillip Gaines lined up across from Jefferson in man-to-man on the outside. Jefferson’s route took him along the sideline. Gaines’ coverage was tight. Kirk Cousins threw a back-shoulder pass.

Jefferson twisted his body for a 25-yard completion to extend the drive, which resulted in a touchdown for a 31-16 lead.

Two things: A) Cousins went to his rookie in that critical situation and B) Cousins and Jefferson never work on back-shoulder throws in practice.

Both points speak volumes.

“That’s trust right there,” Jefferson said.

Trust in the rookie’s “raw ability” to make a play, Cousins said.

As he ran down the field after that catch, Cousins turned to a teammate and said, “18 can play.”

Jefferson wears No. 18, and he is showing he can play in different ways. In the slot, outside, deep throws, run-after-catch. He’s averaging 21.8 yards per catch and leads the league in catches of 20-plus yards with eight.

“It’s only my fourth game of my career,” he noted. “We didn’t have any preseason. I guess you could say this is my preseason. I’m just getting started.”

A Cook-Jefferson marriage is a nice starting point.


Chip Scoggins chip.scoggins@startribune.com