CHICAGO –Jerick McKinnon's main focus when he stepped into Soldier Field was to make plays, and he followed through.
The running back played a significant role in Minnesota's 20-17 defeat of Chicago in a city that's been historically difficult for the Vikings to succeed.
Late in the third quarter and holding onto a 1-point lead, the Vikings lined up at their own 42-yard line on second-and-5. McKinnon caught a toss in the backfield from Case Keenum and took off running toward the right sideline. He spotted a hole and cut straight up the field, running through traffic before breaking free and sprinting all the way to the end zone for a 58-yard touchdown.
"Nick Easton had a great block – I saw him come, he cut somebody. [Laquon] Treadwell on the backside had a real key block to spring me loose," McKinnon said after the game. "So you know, it's a great collective effort. I think we kind of got them on the tempo, so you're just building off each other, playing with effort, and finding ways to make plays for the offense."
McKinnon led the Vikings with 95 yards on 16 carries and added six catches for 51 receiving yards. On special teams, he returned two kickoffs for 51 yards. McKinnon received an uptick in responsibility in the absence of Dalvin Cook, who suffered a season-ending knee injury against the Lions in Week 4, and made the most of it.
He also credited Minnesota's offensive line for helping him get the gaps and the push he needed.
"When Dalvin was in those first couple games, he made those big runs. And you know, that gives those guys up front a lot of courage and a reason for them to play harder," McKinnon said. "So you know, us running backs, we have an explosive group, and we know we have to make those plays without Dalvin here. The main point was just to come out, play our game, and find a way to make explosive runs."
The Vikings totaled 159 rushing yards during the prime-time game. Latavius Murray recorded 31 yards on 12 attempts, averaging 2.6 yards per carry, and he also had two catches for 12 yards. Fullback C.J. Ham had one carry for no gain and made a catch for 11 yards.
Murray said he was proud of how the position group played in a tough environment after losing Cook.
"I think we ran the ball really well. I think especially Jet, [nearly] surpassing that 100-yard mark … we just wanted to take it to them," Murray said. "We wanted to continue to keep running the ball well like we have in the previous games. We still have a lot to build on, a lot to work on, but I think we ran the ball really well."
McKinnon said the offense was fueled in part by the energy and confidence level of Keenum, who relieved Sam Bradford with less than a minute remaining in the first half.
The quarterback, in turn, praised McKinnon and the run game he helped set a base for.
"Jerick made great plays, and returned kicks, too," Keenum said. "I've got tremendous confidence, and I know all the guys have confidence, in him and Latavius. Whoever is back there does a great job protecting and running the ball."
Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer also emphasized the importance of establishing a ground game in order to open up the passing game.
He said that McKinnon's performance gave the offensive more versatility.
"Defenses start loading up and give you a better chance to throw the ball some. Play actions were better," Zimmer said. "I think all those things are important.
"First half, the running game was OK, but you know it wasn't really moving," Zimmer added. "They've got a really good defensive front. They've got a good defensive team. They're big and strong and physical. I was nervous about being able to run the football against this front, and I'm glad that we were able to get some of it done."
McKinnon was happy with his performance and that he helped the Vikings notch a win and move to 3-2 on the season.
Come Tuesday morning, however, it's back to the grindstone.
"I'm ready to see the film and see what I can improve off of going into next week," McKinnon said. "You know, it's a great team win. We played good, and we came out on top, so it was a good way to win."