At the time of year when Christmas music has been running 24/7 for more than a month, it was a “golden oldie” that kept going through my mostly vacant head as I was watching the Vikings duel the Dolphins.
Instead of Bing Crosby’s classic "White Christmas," or Burl Ives' rendition of "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer," or even Mariah Carey’s oh-so-catchy "All I Want for Christmas Is You," the song I had on repeat was my own version of the John Lennon anti-war anthem, "Give Peace a Chance."
Every time I saw Dalvin Cook get the football against Miami (and finally have some holes to run through) I kept singing to myself “All we are saying... is give Dalvin a chance.” I was hoping my twisted musical message would reach new Vikings offensive coordinator Kevin Stefanski, but more importantly... penetrate the brains of the Vikings offensive line and inspire them somehow.
Given the current state of affairs in the world around us there are many things that could have (and probably should have) inspired my ear worm in its original form. I'm almost ashamed to admit that after more than a year and a half of waiting, what brought it back in its modified form and stuck it inside my brain was watching Sunday’s long-awaited breakout performance by Mr. Cook.
“That’s the guy we see every day in practice and the guy we’ve been waiting to get the opportunities to carry this offense," said wideout Adam Thielen. “We know what he means to this offense and we’re gonna need that moving forward and we’re gonna kind of ride him the rest of the year.”
One can only hope.
When the Vikings selected Cook in the second round of the 2017 draft, he was seen as a player who could give the Vikings what they lacked on offense, a player who could score almost any time he touched the ball, from almost anywhere on the field. But until recently, the problem was getting Cook on the field at all.
As nearly every Viking fan knows, Cook’s rookie season was lost to a torn ACL in his left knee. This year, Cook missed five weeks to a hamstring injury. Since his return to the lineup the only thing to stop Cook has been the blocking (or lack thereof) of his own offensive line. But if Cook is holding a grudge, you didn’t hear after Sunday’s win over the Dolphins.
“You gotta start by giving credit to the O-line," said Cook. “They opened holes, I hit ’em and receivers making blocks downfield and all that just led to big plays and we’re trying to get back to executing, and today we did that.”
On the season yards, touchdowns... and even daylight had been hard to come by for Cook. Operating behind a frequently over-matched offensive line, Cook’s season to this point had been pedestrian, at best.
But today, playing a Miami defense that has struggled against the run all season, Cook rushed the ball 19 times for 136 yards. That’s an average of 7.2 yards per carry, with a long run of 26 yards. He scored his first two rushing touchdowns of the season.
Consider that coming into today’s game Cook had only notched two touchdowns all season, and both came via the pass. Seeing Cook finally find daylight, and the end zone, did a lot to energize the whole team.
“It was very fun,” said defensive end Danielle Hunter. “We were all up and excited and jumping for him when he scored. You know, those plays when he makes people miss, that’s really exciting to watch."
Latavius Murray, the “bell cow” of the Vikings ground attack during last year’s 13-3 season, contributed 15 carries for 68 yards including an 18-yard scoring run of his own. The ground grind-em-up was exactly what head coach Mike Zimmer had been searching for all season.
“You know Cook’s a pretty talented player, and when he’s got the ball in his hands typically good things happen,” said Zimmer. ”And then, you know Latavius is a good, hard, physical running back and so I think all that was good and you know, when you can run the ball it sets up the play-action passes.”
It certainly did against a Dolphin defense that came in third-worst in the NFL on stopping the run. The Fish lived up (or should I say down) to their reputation and ranking.
The Vikings were also facing a Miami team that was 6-2 at home, but just 1-5 on the road for what just happened to be Kevin Stefanski’s first game as offensive coordinator.
So instead of thinking that the Vikings have suddenly solved their offensive shortcomings, let’s just say the Dolphins provided the perfect opportunity for the Vikings to reboot their offense... if not their season... in a highly successful manner.
“We know coach Stefanski, and he’s not gonna call the plays scared ‘cause he just got the job,” said Cook. “He’s gonna go out there and have 100 percent trust in us because he knows the type of guys he has around him and we’re gonna give 100 percent every play for him so, you know, he dialed it up today.”
What we got Sunday from the Vikings offense was a lot more like what EVERYBODY was hoping to see this season. Was it a sign of things to come, or merely a one-game aberration? Only time will tell.
In the meantime, one thing for sure is that for the first time in weeks the Vikings left a game feeling good about themselves on both sides of the football. “This was big for us to come home, to kind of re-establish our identity as a football team, but more importantly as an offense,” said tight end Kyle Rudolph. “We just want to be a physical, run-first team that takes advantage of play-action, and I thought we did that well today.”
As the Vikings celebrate today’s win and begin to ponder the road ahead, please allow me to say one thing directed at new offensive coordinator Kevin Stefanski... and especially the Vikings' beleaguered offensive line.
“All we are saying, is give Dalvin a chance. That’s all we’re really saying."
And if you read that line above (to the tune of “Give Peace a Chance”) and it ends up as an “ear worm” for you the way it did for me, I’ll just close by saying this: It could’ve been worse! I could have come up with something like, “Dalvin’s simply having a wonderful football game," sung to the tune of Paul McCartney’s dubious Christmas contribution, “Simply Having a Wonderful Christmas Time."
I would never do that. It would be mean, I would never stoop that low, and besides.... “All we are saying is give Dalvin a chance. That’s all we’re really saying.”
I’ll stop now.