Vikings finding their formula for playoff success with Dalvin Cook

MINNEAPOLIS -- This was unfamiliar territory for Kirk Cousins, who, on the Minnesota Vikings' game-deciding drive in Dallas, was awestruck by how far the run game carried his team.

Trailing for the first time all game, the Vikings got the ball back at the midway mark in the third quarter trailing the Cowboys 21-20. Cousins threw two passes on the second and third plays of this 13-yard drive and proceeded to hand the ball off again and again.

In all, Minnesota’s 10 straight run plays capped off by Dalvin Cook's 2-yard rushing touchdown and Kyle Rudolph's 2-point conversion allowed the Vikings to wrestle back control of the game at its most critical point. They learned along the way what their formula for success looks like against playoff-caliber teams.

"It’s unique," Cousins said. "I haven’t played with a team in the NFL that does this. I’ve never been able to run the ball that well or been a part of running the ball that well. So it’s new to me."

Minnesota became the first team to run the ball 10 straight times on a touchdown drive since the Ravens did so on Nov. 25, 2018, according to Elias.

These were big runs, too. Cook ripped off a run of 14 yards and Alexander Mattison churned out rushes of 12 and 16 yards, the latter of which was initially ruled a touchdown before it was determined that the ball did not break the plane of the end zone. Minnesota’s five rushes of 10 yards or more on Sunday tied the second-most such runs Dallas has allowed this season.

"It just breaks your will," Vikings coach Mike Zimmer said. "That’s the one thing with football. It’s a tough sport, and if you allow people to run the ball like that against you, then it really deflates you."

What happened on Minnesota’s game-winning drive has been its staple all season. Cook and Mattison’s elusive yet bruising style packed the 1-2 punch that wore down a defense at the point of breaking. The Vikings stuck with the run when they could have done otherwise, not letting a false start penalty on first-and-goal or fullback power run that got stuffed on third down make them settle for a field goal on fourth-and-2.

"That’s what it looks like right here," Cook said. "That’s the blueprint right there."

This defining moment showed Minnesota how it can use its run game and superstar back to slay its toughest opponents. Cook has totaled 1,415 yards from scrimmage through 10 weeks, which is more than any other player in that same stretch since 2014. He’s notched eight games of more than 100 yards of offense. Cook has proved to be a constant threat no matter how teams game plan for him or who they might be missing due to injury, like on Sunday when they were without Adam Thielen.

What the Vikings did on that game-deciding drive to earn their victory in Dallas was something they couldn’t accomplish earlier in the season. They were an interception away from doing so in Green Bay. Last week in Kansas City, the Vikings went three-and-out when presented with an opportunity to go win the game when they got the ball back with 2:30 to play.

Cook averaged 5.5 yards per touch in Week 10, almost twice as much as Ezekiel Elliott was able to muster against Minnesota’s defense. His success on the ground opened up play-action opportunities for Cousins, who completed 7 of 10 passes with two touchdowns following a play-fake.

Cook dragged the Cowboys all over the field Sunday, and the Vikings produced 144 yards after contact. To do that against one of the top run defenses in the NFC is no small feat.