MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. — Of the 66,000-plus at Hard Rock Stadium here Sunday, good luck finding any that was happier than Minnesota Vikings running back Dalvin Cook.
Cook, the Miami native who played more than a half-dozen games at this stadium in high school and college, was in the visiting locker room less than an hour after he broke off a game-clinching 53-yard touchdown run against his hometown team.
“It was perfect,” Cook said. “We had the ball. Needed to ice it. Coach called the play. We executed it.”
The house call was the difference in Minnesota’s 24-16 victory over the Miami Dolphins — a win that improved the Vikings to 5-1 and put them in firm control of the NFC North.
Are the 5-1 Minnesota Vikings for real?
The Vikings are two games up on the Green Bay Packers with the tiebreaker in hand. So why aren’t they seen as contenders in a wholly mediocre 2022 NFL? The answer is simple: Because people have eyes.
The Vikings played poorly Sunday. They just played a little less poorly against a totally depleted Dolphins team that lost its starting quarterback to injury mid-game for the third straight week.
The sharps in Vegas were telling us something with their Vikings -3.5 line — despite Skylar Thompson and not Tua Tagovailoa or Teddy Bridgewater under center.
And here’s what’s wild: If Thompson hadn’t gotten hurt on the fifth play of the second quarter, the Dolphins very well could have won Sunday. The offense moved when the rookie seventh-round pick was in the game in a way it largely didn’t when Bridgewater was in the game.
The Dolphins not only outgained the Vikings 458-234, they also forced Minnesota into three-and-outs on 11 of the team’s 15 possessions.
“[We] just find a way,” said Vikings receiver Adam Thielen, who accounted for one of the Vikings’ three offensive touchdowns Sunday. “I don’t know how else to explain it. Obviously, the first thing I do is look at myself in the mirror and think I could do a lot of things better, but at the end of the day, we just find a way. That’s a good feeling when you can not play your best football as an offense and a team, the defense steps up and plays a heck of a game to keep us in it and give us opportunities on offense to score points.
“And then to be able to finish the game the way we did is exciting. It’s exciting that we know we can play so much better. I feel like we talk about it every week. We’ve got to find a way not to talk about it and actually go out and execute the complete game we know we can.”
But .. can they play so much better? There’s not a ton of evidence suggesting that that is the case. The Vikings’ five wins have come against teams with a combined 11 wins. Their last four wins are by a combined 22 points.
MORE: Week 6 Stock Report
They’ll enter Week 7 no worse than the 2 seed in the NFC even though they entered Week 6 20th in DVOA. The advanced stats say they’re a third-tier team that has found ways to win games.
“Grit,” was how Cook explained it. “Grit. Grit is what describes this team. Leadership. I think personality. Just trying to adapt to what coach [Kevin O’Connell] brought over here. He brought a lot with him. We’re just trying to follow aboard. I think KO did a great job coming in, addressing things right away. He just gave us direction. And we just follow him.”
When asked the significance of starting 5-1, Cook replied:
“It gives us direction. It shows the team we can be. It shows we can win close games. We’ve been in a bunch of them. It just shows the character, the relationship we have in the locker room among one another, we enjoy that.”
Those waiting for the Vikings to fail will have to wait at least another two weeks — and probably beyond. The Vikings are on a bye in Week 7, and then have games against the bad Cardinals and Commanders.
We might not truly get an idea of the team’s quality until a Week 10 showdown with the Bills. And it’s not at all out of the realm of possibility that Minnesota goes 13-4.
“We talked last night about any way it would take, any means necessary to get to 5-1 going into this bye,” O’Connell said. “We’ve learned a lot about our football team. We also have learned, coaches included, we’ve got a long way to go and a lot of room to improve, which I’m really, really excited about, not only getting that opportunity this coming week but to get our players back here, but they’ve earned the right to get some time off.
“They’ve battled for us. They’ve done everything we asked. I love this team and cannot wait to get our next opportunity together.”
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