Vikings to rely on Jerick McKinnon for explosive plays with Dalvin Cook out

CHICAGO -- The No. 1 thing the Minnesota Vikings did not want to lose when Dalvin Cook went down with a season-ending knee injury was the rookie's ability to create explosive plays.

In Minnesota's first game without Cook, Jerick McKinnon showed why he can be called upon to fill that void in the Vikings' 20-17 win against the Bears.

McKinnon stepped in and assumed the biggest role of the night in the running game, rushing 16 times for 95 yards, including a 58-yard touchdown in the third quarter that gave the Vikings a 17-9 lead.

"It felt good," McKinnon said. "When Dalvin was in those first couple games, he made those big runs. That gives those guys up front a lot of courage, a reason for them to play harder. Us running backs, we know we have an explosive group and we know we have to make those plays without Dalvin here."

McKinnon's touchdown run was not only the longest rushing play for Minnesota this season, it's the longest play by a Vikings player since McKinnon broke off a 68-yard touchdown run against the Giants in Week 16 of 2015, according to ESPN Stats & Information.

The Vikings picked up the pace the play before and went no-huddle on a 5-yard run by McKinnon. They continued going up-tempo on McKinnon's touchdown run and caught Chicago's defense off guard. Inside linebacker Christian Jones had his back completely turned to the offense as Case Keenum approached the line of scrimmage to call the play.

McKinnon credited a block he saw Nick Easton make when the left guard lunged forward and cut off Jonathan Anderson to open up a hole through the middle of the field. Center Pat Elflein ran with McKinnon for several yards downfield and blocked Kyle Fuller, clearing the path for the running back take it all the way to the end zone.

"It's a great collective effort," McKinnon said.

Minnesota struggled to establish the run early, totaling 33 yards in the first half. Once injured quarterback Sam Bradford was replaced by Keenum, the offense got into a rhythm by utilizing its running backs on short passes to start the third quarter.

"When you can run the football, it makes it tough," Vikings coach Mike Zimmer said. "Defenses start loading up and give you a better chance to throw the ball some. The play-actions were better. We had a couple of boot[legs] in there that we hit for first downs."

Chicago's run defense gave Minnesota some pause ahead of Monday Night Football. Through five weeks, the Bears have allowed 3.9 yards per rush. The Vikings averaged 5.1 per running play Monday.

"They've got a really good defensive front," Zimmer said. "I was nervous about being able to run the football against this front and I'm glad we were able to get some of it done."

In his first start with the Vikings, Latavius Murray turned in 12 carries for 31 yards and two receptions for 12 yards. C.J. Ham had an 11-yard reception and McKinnon added 51 receiving yards to his performance, finishing as the Vikings' top receiver.

McKinnon's versatility is a big asset to the Vikings. He excels in running routes, finding cutback lanes in space and using his agility to side-step defenders and change speeds. The running back's athleticism is critical for Minnesota, which hopes to keep creating these explosive plays.

With only three running backs on the active roster after Minnesota cut Stevan Ridley to make room for wide receiver Michael Floyd, the Vikings showed how they will approach the running game in the future. The by-committee design works with the personnel Minnesota has to create a balanced attack, with McKinnon relied on to provide the spark.

"My main focus was to make plays, feed off Latavius, C.J." McKinnon said. "Bring the energy and make plays. Make plays for the quarterback. Make plays to open up the passing game. As running backs, we did that."