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Vikings Ground Game Gains Momentum with Cook, Mattison & Cousins TDs

MINNEAPOLIS — Through Minnesota's first six games of the season, Vikings running back Dalvin Cook had been content with his rushing numbers, despite not having an outing of 100 yards or more.

Cook remained patient. So did Minnesota's ground attack. And on Sunday against the Arizona Cardinals, it was put on display.

Cook recorded his first 100-yard-plus rushing performance of the season, running for 111 yards on 20 carries and a touchdown in a 34-26 win.

"I feel great," Cook said. "[Head Coach Kevin O'Connell] got me going early, set the standard [for] what type of day it was going to be, just happened to stick with it all game, finding some plays, and being more consistent. I think that's what we're hunting, that consistency as a whole team. I think once we find that, we'll be good."

As a team, Minnesota had a season-high 173 rushing yards, its fourth game this year of 100 yards or more on the ground. The previous high for the season was 126 against Green Bay in Week 1.

O'Connell said the team was focused on running the ball more this week.

"Coming out of the bye, we had a real mindset of wanting to run the football, continue to establish the different types of core runs that we want to be features in our offense," O'Connell said. "[I'm] very excited to give Dalvin a game ball for his first 100-yard game. Long overdue."

Three of the Vikings five touchdowns were scored on the ground, with running back Alexander Mattison and quarterback Kirk Cousins each adding a rushing score.

Mattison had 40 yards rushing on five carries, and Cousins recorded 22 yards on four attempts.

O'Connell and the Vikings committed to the run early, with Minnesota running on seven of its first 10 plays on its opening drive. Cousins and Cook teamed up for 36 of Minnesota's 42 rushing yards on the possession, highlighted by a 17-yard touchdown run by Cousins in which he bounced to the outside before diving into the end zone.

Cousins' score was the second-longest touchdown run of his career. He had a 19-yarder at Detroit with Washington on Oct. 23, 2016.

According to Next Gen Stats, Cousins reached 18.29 miles per hour on his score.

Cousins credited the Cardinals defense for its strong play in man coverage, and it allowed him to make the decision to use his legs more to create plays.

"We had a great play for man coverage. They defended it really well. I was surprised at their ability to take it away. Then I kind of was like, 'I got to go, I got to move.'" Cousins said. "I was still looking to throw it, but didn't feel we had anybody. Just kind of took off. Usually the cavalry gets there a lot faster, but on that one for some reason I was able to get to the front pylon."

View postgame celebration photos from the Vikings 34-26 win over the Arizona Cardinals at U.S. Bank Stadium on Oct. 30.

Cook then started to heat up the rest of the first half, including a 30-yard run on the Vikings next possession and consecutive gains of 19 and 11 yards to open the second quarter.

Later in the same drive, Minnesota got a 16-yard pass from Cousins to wide receiver Adam Thielen and a 15-yard run by Mattison to put the Vikings in the red zone. Minnesota capitalized a few plays later with a 1-yard touchdown from Cousins to tight end Johnny Mundt to push the advantage to 14-3 with 9:54 left in the first half.

The Vikings offense went quiet, though, for the remainder of the half and into the third quarter.

Minnesota had two punts and a blocked field goal, which allowed the Cardinals to turn an 11-point deficit into a three-point lead at 17-14 after an 8-yard pass from quarterback Kyler Murray to tight end Zach Ertz with 9:01 left in the third.

Minnesota's offense responded quickly. Cousins had double-digit passes to Cook (11 yards), wide receiver Justin Jefferson (29 yards) and Thielen (18 yards) to put the Vikings at the Arizona 7-yard line.

Mattison then carried it in to give Minnesota the lead back at 21-17 with 5:47 left in the third quarter.

The Vikings didn't have to wait long for their next offensive possession, as an interception by safety Harrison Smith put Minnesota at the Cardinals 31-yard line. Minnesota only needed four plays to find the end zone, with Cook rushing up the middle for a 4-yard score for the Vikings second touchdown in a 1:40 span.

Arizona answered right back with two quick scores of its own, using a 38-yard touchdown from Murray to wide receiver Rondale Moore and a 34-yard field goal from kicker Matt Prater to trim the deficit to two at 28-26 with 12:32 left.

But just like they have so far this season, the Vikings got another timely play, and took advantage.

Minnesota was forced to punt, but Cardinals punt returner Greg Dortch muffed it and Vikings linebacker Troy Dye recovered it at the Arizona 25-yard line.

The Vikings only needed four plays again to score, with Cousins finding wide receiver K.J. Osborn for a 5-yard touchdown to push Minnesota's lead to 34-26 with 8:36 left.

Cousins finished 24-for-36 with 232 passing yards and two touchdowns and a passer rating of 103.

Jefferson led Minnesota in receiving with 98 yards on six catches, and Thielen added 67 yards on six receptions. Cook had five catches for 30 yards.

Thielen said with each game, Minnesota's ability to use its experience has helped itself build more confidence as a team.

"I think a lot of guys are relying on a lot of experience, experience from last year, experience from previous years in our career, and then the confidence from this year, from this team, this family, kind of just this bond that we're building," Thielen said. "It's providing a lot of confidence that we can go out there and not have to be perfect because we know in this league, you're not going to be perfect. That's just building our confidence."

Cook added that creating a family-like environment has also played a key role in the Vikings 6-1 start.

"The feeling of going to work, being in this locker room, being around these guys, everything about this group feels like family. Kevin knew what that was on day one when he walked into the building. He knew how we wanted to play, what type of team we wanted to be outside of this stadium, and just having fun," Cook said. "Building that culture around here has been fun. We are still hunting a lot of teams to get where we need to go. I'm just happy I'm on this team with these guys and heading in the right direction."