Minnesota Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer praised running back Dalvin Cook after he rushed for 205 yards and two touchdowns in Thursday night's 36-28 win over the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Cook suffered a dislocated shoulder and a torn labrum in the Vikings' Week 12 loss to the San Francisco 49ers. Just 11 days later he was back on the field to help Minnesota (6-7) remain in the thick of the NFC playoff race.
"I think he's a warrior," Zimmer told reporters. "He comes out and competes. He's a great leader. He's a great competitor. He wants to play. Eric Sugarman, our trainer, texted him today and said, 'Hey, are you sure you're OK and good to go?' He said, 'I have no regrets, I'm good to go.' He said, 'That's why I do this, I want to play.' That's the kind of guy he is."
Cook didn't just make a rapid recovery, he handled 28 touches in the contest, his second-highest total of the 2021 season. He averaged 7.6 yards on his 27 carries and made one catch for 17 yards.
Afterward, he was more concerned about his tired feet than his ailing shoulder: "You've gotta give the dogs a break."
"The holes were big all night," Cook said of his offensive teammates. "So you've gotta give those guys credit up front. They're my guys. They did a great job of blocking for me tonight. Receivers, tight ends, everybody did a great job of blocking for me tonight. I'm just hitting holes and trying to find some space out there."
His two touchdowns were part of Minnesota building a seemingly insurmountable 29-0 lead, but the Steelers roared back to get back within one score. A pass from Ben Roethlisberger to Pat Freiermuth as timed expired was broken up just in the nick of time by safety Harrison Smith in the end zone as the Vikings held on.
The win moved the Vikes to eighth in the NFC, a half-game behind the Washington Football Team and San Francisco 49ers, who hold the last two wild-card spots at 6-6.
Minnesota faces the Chicago Bears (4-8) twice during the final four games of the regular season. It'll likely need to win both of those matchups and one of its other two contests against the Los Angeles Rams (8-4) or Green Bay Packers (9-3) to reach the postseason.
That's why winning Thursday's game was so important to avoid a scenario where it would have likely needed to run the table to secure a playoff berth.
Cook was a crucial part of taking down the Steelers, and the Vikings will need him to continue shining down the stretch if they're going to make the needed late-season surge.
The 26-year-old Florida State product will have 10 days to rest his shoulder (and his feet) before Minnesota returns to action Dec. 20 for a road game against the Bears.