Vikings coach Mike Zimmer said he got the word Sunday morning that star running back Dalvin Cook would not be able to play in the late afternoon game against Seattle at U.S. Bank Stadium because of his ankle injury. Backup running back Alexander Mattison said he found out from Cook “a little sooner than everyone else,” though he didn’t give a precise timeframe.
Nevertheless, when the game got underway at 3:25 p.m. Mattison knew what he needed to do in replacing Cook.
“He knew I didn’t need a pep talk or anything,” Mattison said of what Cook told him before the game. “He knew I was ready for the opportunity, and told me just go run with it.”
That’s exactly what Mattison did. In Minnesota’s 30-17 victory over the Seahawks in front of a full house at U.S. Bank Stadium, Mattison carried 26 times to tie his career-high with 112 yards rushing. He also caught six passes for 59 yards.
“He always runs hard,” Zimmer said. “He got many opportunities. Alex is a good back.”
Cook, who entered Sunday ranked fourth in NFL rushing with 192 yards in two games, was hurt in the second half of 34-33 loss at Arizona on Sept. 19 but remained in the game. He did not practice all week, but Zimmer held out hope that he still would be able to play.
Mattison’s previous 112-yard game came last season October at Seattle when Cook was knocked out of the game on the first play of the second half with a groin injury. But that game didn’t end well with Mattison failing to convert on a key fourth-and-1 play, then the Seahawks winning 27-26 on Russell Wilson’s 6-yard touchdown pass to D.K. Metcalf with 15 seconds left, scoring on fourth-and-goal.
“We definitely owed them that one,” Mattison said of Sunday’s victory. “It was kind of something throughout the game that me and (tackle Brian O’Neill) and the O-line up front, we kind of had that vengeance feel to it. It felt great to go out there and execute.”
Mattison, in his third season, gave his offensive line credit Sunday.
“Feels good when you’re able to get the ball and be productive,” he said. “We love to be productive as backs in this offense. Feels amazing. Wouldn’t be able to do it without those guys up front, though.”
Mattison was more of a threat receiving than running in the first half. At halftime, he had five catches for 60 yards, and eight rushes for 36 yards. But once the Vikings took a 21-17 halftime lead, they leaned more heavily on the running game, and Mattison had 18 second-half carries for 76 yards.
Mattison’s receiving in the first half helped set up the ability to keep the ball on the ground in the second half. Most notably, with Minnesota trailing 17-7 early in the second quarter, Mattison gained 23 yards on a screen pass on a drive the Vikings used to cut the deficit to 17-14.
“Any time you have a guy like Dalvin out, especially not only the type of player he is on the field, but the leadership, his energy, it’s tough,” veteran Vikings receiver Adam Thielen said. “But (Mattison) is such a great guy to be able to come in there and fill (in) for him, because he’s just got a great mindset. He’s just in there, he’s working. He ain’t talking. He makes the most of it. So, we had no worry going into this game.”
In the end, Mattison was proud to help make up for the absence of his good friend Cook, who is in his fifth season.
“He’s telling me I was doing exactly what he would do, so that just made me proud to kind of be that little brother in a sense where I’m just there trying to learn from him, and it prepared me for this moment,” Mattison said.