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Young Vikings Clear Hurdles, Reach Milestones in Win

MINNEAPOLIS – Alexander Mattison surged through the middle, leapt off his right foot just inside the 5-yard line and soared over a defender and into the end zone.

The rookie seemed to float in the air for a second before coming down inside the purple for a Minnesota touchdown – and his first in the NFL.

Asked if the hangtime felt as long to him as to those watching, Mattison laughed.

"It depends how long it felt like to fans, because it felt pretty long to me," he said. "It felt like I was in the air for a pretty penny."

Mattison said he called on some skills acquired during his track-and-field days at San Bernardino High School.

"It's instinctual," he said of the jump. "I ran hurdles in high school, did long jump in high school, so it's something I kind of have in my back pocket that I just keep there until it's time to bring it out."

Mattison spoke modestly of his first scoring play in the pros.

"It felt great just to get in there and do things the right way," he said. "The guys up front, they blocked it perfectly, and so it was just one of those things where you go in there and try and use your training, use what you've done and just be special."

Dalvin Cook said postgame that he was happy to see his "little brother" get in the end zone.

"We've been grinding since he came into this thing. It's never been a 'me show' … it's been all about the collective group," Cook said. "We all bring something different. We all want to pound the rock, but we have to change up what we do. Seeing Alex get his first touchdown, I definitely was proud of him."

Mattison totaled 12 carries for 58 yards on the day, complementing Cook for a ruthless rushing attack by the Vikings.

The passing game also was highlighted by a rookie.

Tight end Irv Smith, Jr., led the Vikings with 60 yards through the air on just three catches.

"It's cool, going out there and executing. We've worked very hard to get to this moment we're in," Smith said. "I feel like it's awesome to have this opportunity. I can't wait to keep going forward."

Mattison called it "awesome" to see a big outing from his draft classmate.

"The energy was amazing. It was one of those things where you're jumping up, running down the sideline with him," Mattison said. "I just can't wait for him to have more opportunities like that."

Even the impressive stats didn't tell the entire story for Smith, who also had a 26-yard reception reduced to a 14-yard gain when Chad Beebe was flagged for an illegal block above the waist.

Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins said that Sunday offered fans a look at Smith's speed and movement skills.

"Even on the play that ended up being [reduced] because of a penalty, he showed he's got some great speed down the sideline after catching the football," Cousins said. "A young player who you bring along and one of those players that you do start to learn about as you're playing.

"You realize maybe that you have something there, and you can't just know that day one," Cousins continued. "You have to play through the season and learn how he can fit in and how he can help us, and I think that's going to be a fun piece of our development this year."

Wide receiver Adam Thielen said that Smith has proven why the Vikings drafted him in the second round this spring.

"Another guy that busts his tail and doesn't talk about getting the ball," Vikings receiver Adam Thielen said of Smith. "He does some of the dirty work and does a great job of getting open, catching the football and running with it, as well. They liked him coming out, and now we can see why."

Added veteran tight end Kyle Rudolph: "Irv had a great week. He had a lot of big plays that opened up for him, and it's exciting when you see that."

It seemed across the board for Minnesota, young guys made impacts on Sunday's win.

Another example was second-year cornerback Mike Hughes, who got back in the action for the first time since tearing his ACL last season in Week 6.

Hughes spoke with media members following the game and referenced a plan that had been in place for his return. He didn't appear to be on any type of snap count, instead playing a majority of the game.

"We had a plan all week. I've been playing this out all week, so nothing that they did out there surprised me, and I was ready for everything they threw at us," Hughes said. "When my number was called, I was ready to go."

Credited with three tackles on the afternoon, Hughes said there was no feeling of playing "catch up" despite the lengthy time away from the field.

"Being hurt gave me a lot of time to really dig my head into the playbook, and that's what I did. That really slowed the game down a lot for me, especially playing nickel," said Hughes, who still wore a brace on his knee.

"I'm not really a big fan of the brace, but it is what it is," he said. "I'll listen to orders and follow directions, so we'll see about what we do with the brace [moving forward]."

While Hughes returned from injury, linebacker Eric Wilson stepped in for an injured Anthony Barr and helped the defense get off to a fast start, tallying a team-leading 11 tackles (press box stats) along the way.

Wilson signed with the Vikings as an undrafted free agent in 2017 and has been a consistent special teams contributor and made four starts in 2018. He's already started two of three games this season.

Veteran linebacker Eric Kendricks said that Wilson "can do it all" and is a dependable teammate.

"He's smart, he works hard, and he has that mentality," Kendricks said. "The mentality's the hardest thing to get, but he has it. He's good, man.

"He was a huge part of why we won today," Kendricks continued. "Hats off to him, but we also expect that out of him."

Safety Harrison Smith echoed that he wasn't surprised by Wilson's – or any of the young guys' – performances on Sunday.

"Eric has come in and played great for us prior to this game, so I don't think there was a doubt with that," Smith said. "We have a ton of guys that, when their number is called, step in and play great. Jayron Kearse is always making plays when his number is called. Guys everywhere – Stephen Weatherly, I could go on and on.

"That's those guys preparing without getting as many reps and then executing, so it's mental and physical," he added. "It's a lot of hard work that people don't see that comes to fruition on game day."