EAGAN, Minn. — Dalvin Cook set a goal for himself in 2022: play in every game.
After his first five NFL seasons were impacted by injuries or illnesses, the Vikings running back accomplished the feat of a healthy season for the first time in his career.
"It means a lot," Cook said on Jan. 16. "I was there for my guys. That's always been my goal, just to finish with these guys."
Playing in an offense that leaned more heavily on the pass than run compared to recent years, Cook put together his fourth consecutive season of at least 1,100 rushing yards (1,173) and 240 carries (264) while rushing for eight touchdowns. He also had 295 yards and a pair of scores through the air on 39 receptions.
Cook continued to ascend the Vikings all-time leaderboards in 2022. He moved into third place in career rushing yards (5,993), passing Bill Brown (5,757) and Chuck Foreman (5,887). He also passed Ted Brown (40) for fourth in career rushing touchdowns (47) and trails just Adrian Peterson (97), Bill Brown and Foreman (52).
Despite ranking sixth in the NFL in attempts and rushing yards in 2022, Cook struggled with consistency throughout the regular season. He recorded six games of at least 90 yards on the ground, but only two with 100-plus (111 against Arizona in Week 8 and 119 at Buffalo in Week 10). He also had six contests with fewer than 50 yards.
Alexander Mattison, who also played a full season in 2022 for the first time in his career, helped the Vikings mix things up in the backfield. The 2019 third-round pick recorded 74 carries for 283 yards and five scores. He also added 15 catches for 91 yards and a touchdown through the air.
Minnesota's lone fullback — C.J. Ham — was a key contributor in multiple areas. He recorded a career-high in touchdowns (two), scoring on the ground for the first time since his rookie season in 2017. Ham also added 10 catches for 86 yards receiving and helped block on both offense and special teams, where he served as a team captain.
Kene Nwangwu spent most of the season on special teams as the Vikings kickoff returner but filled in for Cook and Mattison in the second half at Chicago in Week 18.
Ty Chandler also mainly contributed on special teams before suffering a broken thumb against the Bears in Week 5. The rookie was placed on Injured Reserve before being activated on Dec. 28, 2022.
Rookie Bryant Koback spent time on the practice squad and didn't appear in a game for Minnesota.
Notable Number: 81
With their six-game win streak in jeopardy on the road in Buffalo, the Vikings faced a 17-point deficit with 1:34 remaining in the third quarter.
In need of a response, Cook provided a well-timed jolt, getting a key block from receiver Justin Jefferson to break free for an 81-yard touchdown run. Minnesota battled back to defeat Buffalo 33-30 in overtime.
Cook's run was the longest rush of his career and the second-longest run by any player in the NFL in 2022 (Las Vegas' Josh Jacobs had an 86-yarder against Seattle in Week 12). It was the longest rushing touchdown by a Viking since Adrian Peterson's 82-yard scamper in December 2012 and the sixth-longest run in franchise history.
Cook also reached 21.68 miles per hour on the run, which was tied for sixth for fastest speed from a ball carrier in 2022, according to Next Gen Stats.
Like the play above, Cook was able to find the end zone when his team needed him the most.
After trailing Indianapolis by 33 points at halftime, the Vikings trimmed the deficit to eight with 2:28 remaining in the fourth quarter.
With the ball at the Minnesota 36, Kirk Cousins connected with Cook on a screen pass. Guided by an army of blockers in front of him, the Vikings running back darted inside toward the left hashmarks before turning up the field.
Cook avoided a tackle just inside the Colts 20-yard line before he bounced off two more Indianapolis defenders and dove into the end zone for the 64-yard score, the longest reception of his career.
The Vikings then completed the one-play drive with a 2-point conversion to tie the game at 36. Minnesota went on to win 39-36 in overtime to complete the largest comeback in NFL history.
Rushed for 1,173 yards and eight touchdowns on 264 attempts; hauled in 39 receptions for 295 yards and two scores; started 17 games and played 841 offensive snaps (72.0 percent)
Ran for 283 yards and five touchdowns on 74 carries; caught 15 passes for 91 yards and a score; played 297 offensive snaps (25.4 percent)
Recorded four attempts for seven yards and two touchdowns; caught 10 passes for 86 yards; started four games and played 169 offensive snaps (14.5 percent)
Recorded nine carries for 14 yards; hauled in two receptions for 21 yards; played 18 offensive snaps (1.5 percent)
Recorded six attempts for 20 yards. Played 12 offensive snaps (1.0 percent)
The highest highs
1. With his 81-yard score leading the charge, Cook's best performance at Buffalo occurred two weeks after cracking the 100-yard barrier for the first time in 2022.
Cook had season highs in rushing yards (119) and yards per attempt (8.5) on 14 carries. He also added 27 yards receiving on three catches.
2. After 60 career games, Mattison recorded his first career multi-touchdown day on the ground in the Vikings Week 18 game in Chicago.
Mattison led Minnesota in rushing with a season-best 54 yards on 10 attempts. The running back's two scores keyed a 29-13 victory against the Bears.
The lowest low
1. After a solid season debut with 108 scrimmage yards against Green Bay in Week 1, Cook struggled to find a rhythm in Minnesota's first road trip to Philadelphia the following week.
Cook was held to a career-low six carries for a season-low 17 yards. The Vikings offense wasn't much better, ultimately falling 24-7 to the Eagles.
2 pressing questions for 2023
1. What's the backfield look like next season?
For the past four seasons, Cook and Mattison have served as a dynamic, interchangeable duo in the Vikings backfield.
Cook signed a five-year extension in 2020, and the 27-year-old is under contract through 2025, but some have speculated about his future.
The 24-year-old Mattison, meanwhile, is set to enter free agency this offseason for the first time in his career.
The Vikings will have to decide soon if they're keeping the backfield intact or are heading in a new direction.
2. Will the Vikings utilize the run game more for a balanced offensive attack?
The past several years, the Vikings have approached the offense with a run-first mentality.
Minnesota ranked in the top 10 in the NFL in rushing attempts per game four times (2015, 2017, 2019 and 2020) since 2015, averaging 29.6 carries per contest. During that same stretch, the Vikings ranked in the top 10 in pass attempts per game just once (2018: 37.9, sixth in the NFL).
After the arrival of Head Coach Kevin O'Connell and Offensive Coordinator Wes Phillips, however, Minnesota relied on the passing game more in 2022.
The Vikings threw the ball on 64.4 percent of their offensive plays (39.6 attempts per game), which ranked third in the NFL in both categories. Minnesota used the run game just 35.6 percent of the time (23.3 attempts per game), which ranked 30th in the NFL in both areas.
O'Connell expressed late in the season he wants to find a stronger balance between the run and the pass in the future.
"I just think it all starts with your ability to run the football and then marry the run and the pass," O'Connell said. "It makes it hard to defend if you can establish that run game, win some of those matchups on the line of scrimmage, and we've got good backs with Dalvin and Alexander that when we can get those guys in the flow and in the rhythm of getting some space and getting going, it can equal a lot of really good things for our offense."