Vikings holding strong in NFC North behind surging offense

DETROIT -- By way of a shootout, the Minnesota Vikings have their first NFC North win of the season, beating the Detroit Lions 42-30 on Sunday.

In the absence of Pro Bowl receiver Adam Thielen, who sustained a hamstring injury in his right leg after catching a highlight-reel TD pass in the back of the end zone in the first quarter and was eventually ruled out, Minnesota’s offense churned out its highest point total of the season.

It’s a testament to how well the Vikings rebounded without one of their top offensive weapons and how playcalling within this scheme has created a sustainably explosive attack. Minnesota moves to 5-2 on the season ahead of hosting the one-win Redskins on Thursday at the halfway point of the season. They trail the Packers, who improved to 6-1 with a victory over the Raiders on Sunday.

Bisi’s breakout: Receiver depth is an ongoing issue in Minnesota. Without Thielen, quarterback Kirk Cousins looked to seventh-round rookie Bisi Johnson, who has recently emerged as the No. 3 receiver. Stefon Diggs and Johnson led all receivers with eight targets on Sunday. Johnson finished with four catches for 40 yards and scored his first NFL touchdown, connecting with Cousins for a 1-yard TD in the second quarter. Johnson stepped in and filled major shoes in Week 7. Given Minnesota’s quick turnaround with the Redskins coming to town for Thursday Night Football, the Vikings may expect more from Johnson in this role if Thielen’s injury is severe enough to force him to miss time.

Offense finds a way: Thielen did not return after his touchdown, but his absence didn’t derail the Vikings offense. Cousins had no trouble spreading the wealth, putting four of his teammates in position to reach the end zone from Johnson and Dalvin Cook to C.J. Ham and Kyle Rudolph. Cousins joins some pretty elite company as one of five Vikings quarterbacks with consecutive games with four TD passes.

Minnesota strung together back-to-back touchdown drives in the second quarter and has scored at least 21 points in the first half in consecutive games for the first time since late in the 2014 season, according to ESPN Stats & Information. Entering Week 7, the Vikings had the fourth-most first-half points scored in the NFL, and they’ve done it by compiling some long drives. Cook’s 8-yard touchdown that gave the Vikings a 21-14 lead ahead of the two-minute warning in the first half was the culmination of a 15-play, 97-yard drive. Minnesota has put together TD drives of 98, 88 and 97 yards in each of their past three wins.

Cook's best game? From top to bottom, this may also have been Cook’s best performance to date. The third-year running back recorded his fifth game of 100 yards rushing, and he did so by averaging more than 6 yards per carry. He broke free on outside runs and showed just how difficult he is to bring down and how he wears down a defense, notching 53 yards after contact on 25 rushes. As a whole, the Vikings rushing offense is in a completely different spot than it was a year ago. Cook’s two scores gives Minnesota 11 rushing touchdowns through seven games. The Vikings had nine total last season.