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For Vikings' Dalvin Cook, first game back more about catching ball than running it

Minnesota Vikings running back Dalvin Cook (33) carries the ball during the third quarter against San Francisco 49ers at U.S. Bank Stadium. Brace Hemmelgarn / USA TODAY Sports

MINNEAPOLIS—Minnesota Vikings running back Latavius Murray slipped into Stefon Diggs' postgame media session Sunday, Sept. 9, and pretended to be a reporter.

"You were the third-leading receiver today behind Dalvin Cook. How do you think he caught the ball?" Murray asked.

In Minnesota's 24-16 season-opening victory over the San Francisco 49ers at U.S. Bank Stadium, Cook caught six passes out of the backfield for 55 yards. Wide receivers Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs had six and three receptions, respectively.

"It's always surprising to see running backs catch so well," Diggs said with a laugh in response to Murray.

Turning serious, Diggs said Cook "catching out of the backfield is huge" for the Vikings.

It certainly was Sunday. Cook, playing his first regular-season game since tearing his left ACL on Oct. 1, 2017 against Detroit, was uneven running the ball, gaining 40 yards on 16 carries. But his receptions helped the Vikings take a 10-0 lead.

The game's first play was a pass from Kirk Cousins to Cook for 9 yards, and the third play a completion to Cook for 12 yards. He had five catches for 47 yards by halftime, when Minnesota led 10-3.

"I'm happy with catching the football," Cook said. "(Offensive coordinator John DeFilippo), he's got 100 percent trust in me to catch the football, so you can see he got me the ball a lot of times. ... The screen was effective."

Cook had 11 receptions for 90 yards in 2017 before his season ended in the third quarter of a Week 4 game against the Lions. Before his injury, he rushed 74 times for 354 yards, a 4.8-yard average.

At 2.5 yards per carry, his average Sunday was about half that.

"A lot of runs were close," he said. "We got tripped up."

On Cook's best run of the day, a 17-yarder in the second quarter, he lost a fumble.

"Tried to make a play, and I was close," said Cook, who lost his shoe in addition to the ball on the play. "I think if I would had my shoe on, it would have been better. I couldn't really get my feet in the ground. ... But we all have to take care of the football. ... No excuses."

With the Vikings working Cook back slowly from his injury, he played in just one preseason game, running twice for one yard. On Sunday, he said his knee felt "great," and he was glad to get the first play out of the way.

"Then you can lock in and do what you want to do," he said.

On Sunday, that included catching passes.

"Dalvin is a good football player, and any time we can get him in space, I think that's a good thing," Vikings coach Mike Zimmer said.

In the first three games last season, Cook had games in which he carried 27 and 22 times. The Vikings didn't want him taking on such a load in his first regular-season game back, so Murray got 11 carries for 42 yards.

Murray isn't sure how carries will be divided up moving forward. He is pretty certain, though, that Cook's receiving will be a valuable weapon.

"He's really dangerous when he's making plays out of the backfield," Murray said. "It can be a long night for a defense."

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