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Lunchbreak: Cook is ESPN's Midseason Pick for NFL Offensive Player of Year

Dalvin Cook "turned it loose" against Detroit, racking up 206 rushing yards to become just the third Viking (Chuck Foreman and Adrian Peterson) to reach 200 in a single game.

Several of Cook's teammates took to social media following the 34-20 win to praise the dynamic runner and make the case for Cook to earn MVP honors this season.

ESPN's Bill Barnwell recently rolled out his midseason awards, and while he didn't tab Cook in the MVP discussion just yet, he did place him as the frontrunner for NFL Offensive Player of the Year. Barnwell wrote:

Perhaps it's recency bias, but I just can't get past what Cook has done since returning from a groin injury. … Cook is carrying them back into playoff contention. After racking up 226 yards and four touchdowns from scrimmage in a 28-22 victory over the Packers, he followed it with 252 yards from scrimmage and two scores in Sunday's rout of the Lions. The Florida State product topped 200 rushing yards and could have made a run for 250 if Minnesota hadn't rested him for most of the fourth quarter.

Despite missing one game and a chunk of a second, Cook now leads the league in rushing yards and is within 5 yards of [Alvin] Kamara for the scrimmage crown. He has 12 rushing touchdowns over the first half of the season. The last guys to do that were Shaun Alexander and LaDainian Tomlinson in their MVP seasons of 2005 and 2006, respectively, and they each played a full eight-game slate. Cook has even tossed in 109 yards and a receiving touchdown over the past two weeks.

Behind Cook for Offensive Player of the Year, Barnwell highlighted Kamara at No. 2 and Seahawks receiver DK Metcalf at No. 3.

Cook wasn't the only Viking on Barnwell's list of honors, though. He also included rookie receiver Justin Jefferson among the candidates for Offensive Rookie of the Year, coming in third behind Chargers quarterback Justin Herbert and Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow.

Barnwell noted that Jefferson beat out Chase Claypool, who has been a standout for the still-undefeated Steelers.

[But] don't sleep on what Jefferson has done. Since entering the starting lineup in Week 3, the only players who are averaging more receiving yards per game than the rookie are Davante Adams and DK Metcalf. Nobody in the NFL has averaged more yards per route run than Jefferson, who tops Adams and George Kittle by averaging 3.62 yards per route over that time frame.

Jefferson is the first rookie since the merger with two 150-plus yard games in the first half of his debut season … The trade that essentially sent Stefon Diggs to the Bills for the rights to draft Jefferson is turning out to be the most significant win-win swap in recent memory. A Buffalo team that needed a receiver to put it over the top got Diggs, who has been a reliable target for Josh Allen. The cap-strapped Vikings appear to have found a devastating deep threat in the 21-year-old Jefferson.

View game action images as the Vikings take on the Lions on Sunday.

Minnesota receives A+ grade for defeat of Detroit

For the second week in a row, the Vikings received an A+ grade from CBS Sports' John Breech.

Breech spoke highly of Minnesota's offense and its outlook for the second stretch of the season:

It's not quite Thanksgiving yet, but Dalvin Cook probably felt like it was after he spent his Sunday feasting on the Lions defense. … Everything was working offensively for the Vikings, who also got a strong performance from Kirk Cousins. Cousins completed his first four passes for 83 yards on Minnesota's first two possessions, which helped the Vikings jump out to an early 13-0 lead. After being left for dead in the playoff race just two weeks ago, the Vikings are slowly clawing their way back into contention.

The Lions, meanwhile, received a D grade from Breech.

Matthew Stafford didn't practice all week, and it definitely showed in this game. The Lions quarterback threw two interceptions, including a back-breaking pick in the third quarter that came after Detroit drove all the way down to Minnesota's 5-yard line. Of course, the Lions might not have won even if Stafford had played a perfect game, and that's because Detroit's defense got absolutely steamrolled by a Vikings rushing attack that piled up 275 yards on the ground, which is the most the Lions have surrendered in any game since 2013.

The Vikings added a third interception of the day when Harrison Smith picked off backup quarterback Chase Daniel, who entered the game when Stafford went into concussion protocol. It was the 25th interception of Smith's career.

Vikings 'threatening to jump back into playoff discussion'

Thanks to Cook's back-to-back historic performances at Green Bay and against Detroit, the Vikings are riding the coattails of consecutive wins into Monday Night Football this week.

NFL.com's Kevin Patra highlighted Cook – along with Minnesota's offensive performance as a whole – in his Week 9 takeaways. Patra wrote:

Dalvin Cook shot out of a cannon, blasting through a massive hole, shedding a tackle attempt, and dashed 70 yards for a game-sealing touchdown. For the second straight week after returning from injury, Cook carried a Vikings offense that gobbled up yards on the ground. Cook dominated shoddy Lions tackling, taking 22 carries for 206 yards and two scores. He added two catches for 46 yards. When Cook is baking, the Vikings offense is an efficient operation that allows Kirk Cousins to find wide-open receivers off play-action. … [Head Coach] Mike Zimmer's squad got itself to 3-5 with back-to-back division wins after a disastrous start to the season. With Cook cruising, Minnesota is threatening to jump back into the playoff discussion and has a favorable schedule down the stretch to make noise.

Cook's effort has garnered another nomination for FedEx Ground Player of the Week. He won that in Week 8, as well as NFC Offensive Player of the Week for his showing against the Packers. Vote here to help Cook repeat as the FedEx Ground Player of the Week.

The winners for NFC and AFC Players of the Week for Week 9 (offense, defense and special teams in each conference) will be announced Wednesday.

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