GREEN BAY, Wis. - Dalvin Cook scored from midfield with speed, and from a yard out with power.
He scored on handoffs and on a harmless-looking screen pass.
He performed a Lambeau Leap in the first quarter, and wore star-quality sunglasses during his postgame videoconference.
Dalvin Cook had himself a unique day Sunday, authoring a performance unlike any other in the long history of tackle football at Lambeau Field, lugging the Vikings to a 28-22 victory as if they were another pigskin tucked between his arms.
He rushed 30 times for 163 yards and three touchdowns and turned two catches into 63 yards and another score. No Viking had scored four touchdowns in a game since Ahmad Rashad in 1979, and no player had ever produced 200 yards and four scores from scrimmage at Lambeau.
“That’s what Dalvin does,” Vikings linebacker Eric Kendricks said. “He runs with his pads and runs with his heart. He cuts back when he needs to. He really is the best back in the league.”
A week before Adrian Peterson returns to Minnesota as a Detroit Lion, Cook demonstrated that he is a more complete back than Peterson ever was.
Is Cook simply the better player?
We’ve heard two extreme theories about Cook in recent weeks. They’re both wrong.
The first was that the Vikings offense would be fine without him, because of backup Alexander Mattison. That theory was exploded when Mattison failed to gain 1 yard in Seattle that would have won the game on a fourth-down play that Cook certainly would have converted, and when Mattison managed 26 rushing yards against a bad Atlanta defense two weeks ago.
The second theory is that Cook is better than Peterson.
This is the definition of recency bias.
Cook is a better receiver, both downfield and on screen passes. He’s a better blocker, in part because Peterson hated pass blocking.
Cook is more elegant, more aesthetically pleasing. He has better footwork than Peterson, more of what scouts call “wiggle” in small spaces, and makes sharper cuts.
That all might sound like a description of the superior back, but Peterson has an important factor on his side: production.
Peterson could look stiff. He was a limited receiver. He also produced in a way that few backs in NFL history have. Cook would need to have a slew of performances like the one he produced on Sunday to begin to compare to Peterson’s body of work.
Consider that the season that led to the Vikings extending Cook’s contract saw him rush for 1,135 yards on a 4.5 per-carry average, in addition to 519 receiving yards.
That’s 1,654 yards. Impressive, and doesn’t come close to matching Peterson’s best.
In 2012, playing behind an offensive line without any stars and with a passing offense that encouraged defenses to stack bodies at the line of scrimmage, Peterson rushed for 2,097 yards, averaging 6.0 yards per carry, and had 217 receiving yards. That’s 2,314 yards from scrimmage, or 660 more yards than Cook produced in his best season.
Cook’s career-best rushing total in one game is 181 yards. Peterson had six 200-yard rushing games.
Cook’s best performances don’t match Peterson’s, and Peterson, despite major injuries, played in 16 games in a regular season five times. Cook has yet to play in 15 games in one season.
What Cook did on Sunday was historic. We should appreciate its art without rewriting history.
“I think it’s my first win in Lambeau — that’s most important,” he said. “Get my team back on track and back to where we need to be.”
Why the sunglasses indoors? “I don’t want to show you how tired I am,” he said with a smile.
Is he looking forward to Peterson’s visit at age 35? “It’s crazy,” Cook said. “I know how my body feels after the season, so to be doing it for so long and to be so good, at such a high level …
“We spoke in the offseason and he gave me some tips. I’m looking forward to seeing him again.”
Shortly after producing one of the best games ever at Lambeau Field, Cook will get to greet the best running back in Vikings history.