MINNEAPOLIS –Dalvin Cook expected to sleep well Monday night.
The rookie running back made his regular-season debut at U.S. Bank Stadium and had, in the words of Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer, an "outstanding" night.
Cook racked up 127 yards on 22 attempts, averaging 5.8 yards per carry, in the Vikings 29-19 defeat of the Saints. Breaking 100 yards was a fun way to start his professional career, but Cook said personal stats weren't his goal when he stepped on the field.
"We got that 'W,' and that's what is most important for this team," Cook said. "That's all I think about, winning games. A loss, I don't sleep. But winning games, I can go to bed, put my head on that pillow and go to sleep, be good."
Added Cook: "It's good that we got the confidence that we can run the football – that was important."
Cook's opened the fourth quarter with a 32-yard run.
He took the handoff from Sam Bradford, slipped through a hole and curved toward the right sideline, where he then hit full speed until being brought down by Saints linebacker A.J. Klein. The play put Minnesota's offense 12 yards from the end zone and set up a Kyle Rudolph touchdown three plays later.
With just over a minute remaining in the game, Cook turned on the wheels again, rumbling for 32 yards before being tackled at the Saints 12-yard line.
He came painfully close to the end zone without getting in, but Cook was happy for his teammates that did.
"It just goes to show, all of us want to see each other succeed at what we do," Cook said with a smile. "We compete for touchdowns, and that's a good thing."
After four preseason games in which the first-team offense didn't score a touchdown, he said the unit "just needed to keep getting better" and capitalized on a night where the points counted.
"Coach Zimmer comes in and tells us what we need to improve on, and we go in and we improve the little things," Cook said. "Eventually it was going to carry over to the game if we just kept getting it right at practice."
Cook recorded four runs of 10-plus yards on the evening. His 127 yards were the most by a Vikings running back in his debut since Adrian Peterson, who recorded 103 in 2003. Cook also added three receptions for 10 yards.
Bradford said that Cook's numbers didn't shock him.
"I should be more surprised by that, but I'm not, probably because of how talented he is and because of what we've all seen from him since he got here," Bradford said. "You can't really say enough about him, to be able to come in and play as many snaps as he did to keep pounding and pounding and finally break a few at the end."
Zimmer said after the game that he most appreciates Cook's ability to battle for yards after contact.
"When he gets hit … he falls forward for three, he keeps his feet moving, he drives," Zimmer said. "He's a tough, tough back. He's a tough competitor. Typically he catches the ball. I know he dropped one or two tonight, but typically he catches the ball very well. Just keep trying to get better."
Zimmer added that the offensive line also performed well and helped to "spring" Dalvin for efficient runs.
Monday's game was the first time Minnesota's starting five linemen – Riley Reiff (LT), Nick Easton (LG), Pat Elflein (C), Joe Berger (RG) and Mike Remmers (RT) – played together after the combination was finalized.
Cook said if there were questions surrounding the line's abilities, the position group's performance spoke volumes.
"I feel like they answered the bell, first game. They answered the bell coming out of the gate," Cook said. "I know those guys because I practice with them every day, and I know what they're capable of doing. They went out and showed the world what they're capable of doing.
View game action images as the Vikings take on the New Orleans Saints on Monday Night Football at U.S. Bank Stadium.
"They did a great job tonight opening up holes, pass blocking for Sam and making sure the playmakers could make plays," Cook also said. "You got to give it to those guys up front – they did a great job tonight."
Although he played two preseason games at U.S. Bank Stadium, the regular-season atmosphere gave Cook a more accurate taste of a Vikings home game.
The 22-year-old called the evening "phenomenal" from the time he ran out of the tunnel.
"You see that smoke going in the air, and you get the chills," Cook said. "This stadium is unbelievable – it gives me the chills every time I go out there. I love it.
"The fans make it even better," Cook added. "Going out there, hearing the chants and hearing everything around you when you make plays is unbelievable."