In the first three games of the season, McKinnon had rushed a combined five times for 7 yards. But when the third-round draft choice got his first opportunity on Sunday against the Atlanta Falcons, he made it count.
With the Minnesota Vikings holding a 14-7 lead, McKinnon took his first carry of the game 55 yards, setting up a Blair Walsh 49-yard field goal. From there, McKinnon continued to get more and more carries in what essentially became a time split with veteran Matt Asiata.
“It feels real good. Matt Asiata did really good early on punching yards and doing what he does,” McKinnon said. “He moved the ball forward and made people miss. I think as well as we did today, it put us back on track and all we can do is reflect on the win and do it again next week.” McKinnon ended up with 135 yards on 18 carries, with the 55-yarder his longest, but he added runs of 10 and 14 yards and a 17-yard reception. Asiata finished with 78 yards on 20 carries and three rushing touchdowns in a thunder-lighting combination.
The Vikings needed that sort of production after the loss of Adrian Peterson for an undetermined amount of time following his indictment in Texas on charges of reckless or negligent injury to a child. Entering the Atlanta game, the running backs were averaging 2.8 yards a carry without Peterson over the previous two games.
“This team has been through a lot of adversity the last couple of weeks and been down on ourselves,” McKinnon said. “We’ve been working really hard to try to get back on track to make things happen. I think we came out (Sunday) and showed that.”
Said Asiata: “I think our running back group is really tight and I feel like after the AP situation we had to just come together and play as one.”
They played better as two, with Asiata getting the hard yards and McKinnon using his quickness to make defenders miss. The amount of time McKinnon got wasn’t necessarily the game plan, but the more he proved himself, the more the Vikings went with him.
“We’ve talked about trying to get him in the ballgame some more,” head coach Mike Zimmer said. “He’s got a lot of explosiveness and we wanted to try to use some of his speed to the perimeter. He did a couple of really good inside runs, too.”
His 55-yard run tied for the fourth-longest by a Vikings rookie, and he became the first Vikings rookie to gain 100 yards rushing since Peterson in 2007.
“Anytime I get a chance to touch the field, especially living out your dream, I’m just going to try to have fun, play loose, care for my teammates and do whatever I can,” McKinnon said.
“I definitely didn’t imagine it or think of it, but you know things worked out very well thanks to our offensive line and receivers. Everyone was blocking really well and I was able to find some gaps and make some plays.” One of those efficient blockers was center John Sullivan, who came away impressed with McKinnon, too.
“He’s got some juice,” Sullivan said. “He’s a squatty little guy, but he is strong and he picks up yards after contact. He gets small, gets up the field, and he did a heck of a job.”
“Yeah, we could have took a timeout. I thought we were going to run the ball,” Zimmer said. “You’re going to take the 10-second runoff, you’re going to run the ball and I was going to take the timeout if we didn’t score and kick the field goal. We ended up throwing a play-action pass instead.”
“I think his progress is going the right way. He’s obviously got a lot of things to work on,” Zimmer said. “My expectation is very high. There are so many things he can do even better when he’s not thinking so much and he’s doing a lot of thinking right now. He’s got a chance, he’s got a chance to be really, really good.”
Barr’s sack ended a fourth-quarter drive for the Falcons with the Vikings holding a 35-28 lead.
“It was a big moment of the game and I was definitely excited,” Barr said. “I was there to help the team and, you know, no personal agenda. It was awesome I was able to do that.”
It wasn’t something Robison enjoyed “because then you get three guys to you every time,” he said. “They kept sending the fullback, running back, tight end. I felt like I was getting the whole arsenal every time.”
Two rookie draft picks – G David Yankey and DE Scott Crichton – remain inactive and healthy scratches. Both came from Pac 10 schools and therefore missed much of the Vikings’ OTAs while attending classes. Zimmer said on Friday that Yankey “isn’t ready.”