The Vikings had success running the ball Sunday afternoon, and Head Coach Mike Zimmer would have liked to see more of it.
Going into the game, Zimmer anticipated that Patriots Head Coach Bill Belichick would look to **eliminate the Vikings top offensive weapons** in Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs, which could allow for more action on the ground.
The prediction was correct, and the receiving duo was restricted from big plays. Vikings Offensive Coordinator John DeFilippo implemented Dalvin Cook in both the run game and the passing game, and on Minnesota's second drive, the running back broke free for a big gain.
Cook rumbled for 32 yards on first-and-10, his second carry of the series, and running back Latavius Murray took a handoff on the next play for a gain of 1. The drive unfortunately was stalled when Cousins was sacked for a loss of 8 by defensive tackle Adam Butler, and a 48-yard field goal attempt by Dan Bailey was no good.
The Vikings ran once on their next possession, a 4-yard gain by Murray on first-and-10, while throwing twice apiece to Cook and fullback C.J. Ham.
Minnesota logged three more runs before the half – Cook surged for an 18-yard pickup and had two runs of 5 yards, one of which was called back for a holding penalty on guard Tom Compton.
The Vikings went into halftime down 10-7 and with 67 rushing yards on seven carries.
Minnesota's first series of the second half was a three-and-punt. Later in the third quarter, Cook had a 12-yard run called back for a second holding penalty on Compton but later that drive picked up another 18-yard gain on the ground. The drive was capped with a 39-yard field goal by Bailey to tie the game at 10.
From there, however, the Patriots scored quickly, gained momentum and didn't look back. In less than six minutes of game time, they found the end zone twice to go up by two scores.
Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins acknowledged that it got tough to stick with the run when playing from behind.
"It became more of a drop-back game, and I don't know that that's the game we wanted from the start. I don't think we wanted to just be dropping back all the time," Cousins said. "I think we wanted to be more multiple and creative, and sometimes the situation dictated [what we had to do]."
The Vikings almost entirely abandoned the ground game in the fourth quarter; Cook had one carry but was stopped for no gain by defensive end Lawrence Guy.
When all was said and done, Minnesota accrued 95 yards on just 13 attempts, averaging 7.3 yards per carry.
With those kinds of numbers, was there an opportunity to run more?
Zimmer was asked in his postgame press conference if the Vikings had run the ball enough. He answered simply, "No."
Murray said he was pleased with the efficiency of the run game and emphasized the importance of succeeding offensively to dictate more carries.
"We just got to have a better outcome in some other areas so we can get them dialed up some more and get them called some more," Murray said. "I thought we ran the ball really well."
Cousins similarly stressed how crucial it is to stay in control of the contest.
"Yeah, I just think that the last five-and-a-half minutes of the game, down two scores, a lot of times in games when we're ahead or tied, you're getting a dozen more rushing attempts in [that time] because the situation of the game dictates that you just want to pound the rock, especially if you're in the lead.
"Many times the situation of the game can dictate that, as well," Cousins continued. "We can do a better job of making sure we're not down two scores with five-and-a-half minutes left, so then we can run the ball more in the fourth quarter."
View game action images as the Vikings take on the Patriots at Gillette Stadium on Sunday.
Cook said that offensive mistakes by the Vikings allowed them to get behind the 8-ball and in a place where they had to work to come back.
"We're playing against a good quarterback that can capitalize on anything you do," Cook said. "You have to keep the ball out of his hands, and we didn't do that tonight.
"We knew [we could stick with them]. There's no ifs, ands or buts about it," Cook added. "We know we can play with them. There was never any doubt, going into the game or during the game. We just shot ourselves in the foot."
Asked by reporters if he anticipated or would have liked to have more touches, Cook reiterated that the run game is becoming stronger.
"You just have to keep grinding away and chipping away at it, but it's going to come. As long as we're starting to get it going now. We're starting to know what runs to hit, what runs can't, and we're trying to find our identity."