MINNEAPOLIS — This was the game Dalvin Cook had been waiting for.
The Vikings running back had long circled Sunday’s game against the Dolphins as a “popcorn ready” affair because he is a Miami native and grew up rooting for the team in teal (technically nautical aqua) as a kid.
But Cook had also been biding his time for a breakout performance in his young career, which is exactly what he delivered in Week 15 in a 41-17 Vikings win at U.S. Bank Stadium.
Cook racked up a career-high 136 rushing yards on 19 attempts against his hometown team, and also scored two rushing touchdowns in a game for the first time in his career. The running back also had his first multi-touchdown game in his career.
“It has been awhile,” Cook said of his breakout performance. “We’d been a man away, a trip away … just little things away.
“That’s big in the NFL … the little details that can get you over the hump,” Cook said. “Today, we took care of the little details. That’s what we have to do going forward.”
Cook’s teammates said they could sense he was poised for a big-time performance.
“Being able to play against his hometown team … he brought it today,” said Vikings fullback C.J. Ham. “He definitely had some extra juice out there.”
Cook made his presence known early, taking a screen pass and racing 27 yards on the second play of the game after he had a 6-yard run on Minnesota’s first play from scrimmage.
The running back did the rest of his damage on the ground, and was involved early as he had five carries for 61 yards and a touchdown on the Vikings first two possessions.
Cook capped the second drive with a 13-yard touchdown run — his first rushing touchdown of the season — by using his speed to beat Dolphins cornerback Bobby McCain to the outside and ease into the end zone.
“I felt the corner kind of ease into it and I felt like I could get the edge,” Cook said. “He sure enough gave it to me, and I took it.”
Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins explained the thinking behind that play call, and what it was like to watch Cook gallop into the end zone.
“He did a great job, and he showed the elite ability that he has to make people miss,” Cousins said. “Last week we had a run, his touchdown run, his early one, we had the exact same play called last week to the exact same side. The corner was unblocked, exactly like he was today, and the corner made the tackle last week.
“On the sidelines I said to him, ‘Next time, the corner doesn’t make that tackle and you make him miss, and if you make him miss, it’s a big play.’ Today, I handed it off and I had a front-row seat,” Cousins added. “I saw that corner there and said, ‘Make him miss.’ And he did, he ran for a touchdown. You can’t block all of them, but that’s why you try to get the most talented running backs that you can, because if they can make the unblocked player miss, they can be very dynamic.”
Cook tallied seven runs on the day that went for 10-plus yards, but it was his 21-yard touchdown in the fourth quarter that might have been his most impressive.
The running back put a spin move on Miami linebacker Jerome Baker at the line of scrimmage before juking past safety T.J. McDonald and then using his speed to cruise past defensive tackle Akeem Spence for a dazzling score.
The touchdown gave Minnesota a 24-point lead and put the game on ice.
“Cook is a pretty talented player, and when he’s got the ball in his hands, good things typically happen,” said Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer.
Added Ham: “It was kind of one where you just go like this,” Ham said while shrugging and throwing his hands in the air. “It’s like, ‘Um, yeah. He’s got it.”
The running back’s career performance highlighted a day when the Vikings ran for a season-high 220 rushing yards, Minnesota’s highest total since racking up 253 yards against the Raiders in Week 10 of the 2015 season.
But Cook hardly cared that he had a season-high 19 carries, or that he set career bests in rushing yards, total yards or touchdowns.
With the Vikings trying to make a playoff push, Cook said he’ll do all he can to get the Vikings into the postseason.
“We got the ‘W’ so we love that,” Cook said. “When the ball is in my hands, I’m going to try to make a play every time.
“It doesn’t matter if I get 10, five carries … my job is to make a play,” Cook added.