Already wowing the NFL with the greatest two-game stretch of his career, Vikings running back Dalvin Cook heads to Chicago on Monday with a prime-time chance of doing something nobody has done in 34 years.
With one rushing touchdown against the Bears’ stingy defense, Cook would become just the fourth player in NFL history to score at least one rushing touchdown in his first eight games to start a season.
Hall of Famers Lenny Moore did it in 1964 and John Riggins in 1983. George Rogers was the last to do it back in 1986.
“I think [leading statistics are] good for us up front,” said Cook, who leads the NFL in rushing touchdowns (12), total touchdowns (13) and scoring (84).
“Getting that confidence going into the back end of the season, knowing what we’re trying to get done, knowing the identity of who we is. I think that’s key for us up front, for the guys up front. … Gives them that confidence.”
With two rushing touchdowns Monday night, Cook would become just the fifth player in NFL history with at least two rushing touchdowns in five of his first eight games to start a season. The others: Chuck Muncie (1981) and Hall of Famers Jim Brown (1958), Emmitt Smith (1995) and Terrell Davis (1998).
Vikings offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak was Davis’ offensive coordinator when Davis opened the 1998 season with 14 rushing touchdowns through his first eight games.
Any similarities, Gary?
“Very similar as people, I can tell you that from working with them in the classroom as they get ready to play,” Kubiak said.
“Very smart players who understand what’s going on in front of them, where the ball should go, how it should get there. Three-down football players, which I’ve talked to Dalvin about that.
“But I tell you the biggest thing that they’re very similar to me is they’re very tough-minded guys. They’re obviously big-play people when they get out on the edge, but they also get in there and get the dirty 3 and 4 [yards]. I had the pleasure of coaching TD as a great player.
“And it’s really a great pleasure to watch this one [Cook] work because he’s playing extremely well. Hopefully, we keep him healthy all season long and see how it goes.”
Of course, asking for two rushing touchdowns against the Bears might be getting a little greedy. Even for a guy who is riding a two-game, 56-touch explosion that has produced 478 yards, six touchdowns and a two-game winning streak that has kept the Vikings’ season alive at 3-5.
In the 6 ½ games he has played this season, Cook has amassed more rushing touchdowns than 28 NFL teams.
But in three career games against the Bears, Cook has only one rushing touchdown, 86 yards and a 2.5-yard average in three losses.
This year, the Bears rank first in red-zone defense, giving up touchdowns inside the 20 only 41.9% of the time. They’ve allowed only six rushing touchdowns, fewer than all but five teams.
The Vikings rank third in red-zone offense, scoring a touchdown 76.9% of the time they’re inside an opponent’s 20-yard line. A league-high nine of Cook’s rushing touchdowns have come in the red zone.
“[The Bears] have a really good defensive front,” coach Mike Zimmer said. “[Akiem] Hicks is a load. Roquan Smith is a great linebacker. I think they do a good job on the back end with their run support and the way they tackle. Eddie Jackson does a really good job.
“I think they’re second in the league in three-and-outs, so we’re going to have to try and sustain some drives.”
Averaging 1.7 rushing touchdowns per game, Cook is on pace for 26 this season. That would rank fourth in NFL history behind only LaDainian Tomlinson, who had 28 in 2006; Priest Holmes, who had 27 in 2003; and Shaun Alexander, who had 27 in 2005.
Only 11 players have reached 20 rushing touchdowns in a season, the last being Tomlinson in 2006.
Adrian Peterson holds the Vikings’ record of 18 in 2009.
Add it all up and, well, there’s an extra oomph of confidence surging through the offense every time No. 33 touches the ball.
“Anytime you have a big-time back, the blockers … want to do a great job blocking for him,” Zimmer said. “I know Dalvin runs hard and the same all the time.
“And I just feel like our guys have such confidence that he can go the distance at any time.”