Running back Mike Boone found daylight immediately behind left guard Pat Elflein and center Garrett Bradbury, two of the only Vikings starters to play during Sunday’s 21-19 loss to the Bears.
Boone’s 59-yard run on the opening snap was the initial thrill of a roller-coaster afternoon in which he was involved in two turnovers, was tackled for a safety and ran for 148 yards on 17 carries.
“I saw that the offensive line opened a hole,” Boone said, “and you know, I just do what I do.”
Coach Mike Zimmer decided to play the three interior starters of the Vikings offensive line, despite nearly every other starter treating Week 17 as a bye week before the NFC wild-card round. Bradbury and Elflein combined to spring Boone on the opening play, but he fumbled a pitch on the next snap. Along with right guard Josh Kline, the offensive line’s interior three played 19 snaps in three series before going to the bench.
“That was the coach’s call,” Bradbury said. “Would’ve liked to have scored, finished in the end zone on some of those drives. We lost, which wasn’t fun, but there are some good things to take from it.”
Bradbury, Elflein and Kline took a seat at the start of the fourth series, when the Vikings offensive line started a new five in tackle Rashod Hill, guard Aviante Collins, center Dakota Dozier, guard Dru Samia and tackle Oli Udoh. The drive started on the Vikings 1-yard line, and Boone was tackled for a safety.
Boone ripped off a 41-yard run on the next drive to set up a field goal, flashing the elusiveness his teammates had raved about. Boone played because running backs Dalvin Cook (chest/shoulder) and Alexander Mattison (ankle) were sidelined as a precaution.
“I just give thanks to my teammates,” said Boone, who also bobbled a catch into a Sean Mannion interception. “You know, Dalvin, C.J. [Ham], everybody — not just the running backs. Those guys kept me levelheaded and didn’t let me get down. The offensive line was working hard, and I felt like I needed to reward those guys.”
Boone’s breakthrough during his second NFL start was what many expected during last week’s loss to the Packers — his first NFL start. Boone gained only 28 yards in 11 carries in that 23-10 loss.
Collins, who started at left tackle before moving to left guard, said the second-year running back just needed more opportunities.
“He’s an enthusiastic runner. We all like the way he attacks the line,” Collins said. “When you saw that first drive, he popped one out — that’s how he runs. We were all excited for him, blocking for him throughout practices, and he’s done good. He has a bright future ahead of him.”