MINNEAPOLIS — Minnesota Vikings Coach Mike Zimmer did not watch the replay of the noncontact injury that his rookie running back, Dalvin Cook, suffered in the third quarter of Sunday’s 14-7 loss to the Detroit Lions. He didn’t need to see it again to fear the worst.
“We’re concerned about his ACL,” Zimmer said afterward. “But he’s going to get an MRI in the morning and we’ll find out.”

The NFL Network reported Sunday evening that Cook is believed to have suffered a complete tear of his left ACL based on an initial diagnosis.

Zimmer and the rest of the Vikings sideline had heard the hushed silence that fell over US Bank Stadium after the moment when Cook’s knee gruesomely buckled after a 10-yard run, which caused the promising rookie to fumble, and, more significantly, provided yet another major medical blow for an offense that is already starting backup quarterback Case Keenum.

While Keenum and the rest of the Vikings offense struggled on Sunday — committing three turnovers and blowing multiple opportunities late in the fourth quarter at potential game-tying drives — there is no word on when starting quarterback Sam Bradford might be back in the fold. Bradford hasn’t played since injuring his knee in a Week 1 win over New Orleans, and the team reportedly doesn’t expect to have former starter Teddy Bridgewater back until at least the middle stages of the season, either.

The image of Cook clutching his knee was somewhat reminiscent of Bridgewater suffering a torn ACL in his left knee during a preseason practice in August 2016, which came after he had led the Vikings to their first division title since 2009.

Cook, the Florida State rookie who had established himself as the team’s feature back through the first three weeks of the season, continued to endear himself with his new fan base near the end of the first half, when he gave the Vikings a 7-3 lead with an easy six-yard touchdown run. Nicknamed “Chef Cook,” he celebrated by holding his arms out as if they were a kettle, and his teammates acted as if they were pouring in imaginary ingredients.

It was a feel-good moment for an offense that seemed to be coming together for a second straight week. The unit had weathered the Bradford injury and ranked second in the NFL in total yards after last week’s 34-17 win over Tampa Bay, when Keenum threw for 369 yards and three touchdowns and Cook ran for 97 yards and a touchdown on 27 attempts.

But Cook’s injury changed the complexion of Sunday’s game for Minnesota’s offense, which never looked the same after he went down. His fumble on the play led to a go-ahead touchdown for Detroit, which was able to hold Minnesota’s dynamic wide receiver tandem of Stefon Diggs (five catches, 98 yards) and Adam Thielen (five catches, 59 yards), largely in check.

Keenum finished just 16 for 30 for 216 yards, while Cook’s replacement, Latavius Murray, struggled as well, rushing for just 21 yards on seven carries.

“Dalvin’s a really explosive player,” said Zimmer, who personally met with Cook after the loss to encourage the injured rookie. “He has such great big-play ability. We’ll have to look at things differently. If you lose a guy like him, you lose a lot of firepower.”

Minnesota’s best chance to tie came with 2:19 left. The Vikings faced a third-and-goal from the Detroit 3-yard line. Keenum audibled the protection when Detroit broke the huddle. It was the wrong call and allowed Lions’ defensive end Anthony Zettel to break free and sack an indecisive Keenum.

“I got fooled,” said Keenum, who couldn’t convert on a throw on fourth and long. Still, his defense came up with a stop on the ensuing possession and Minnesota had one last shot to tie after taking over at its 44-yard line with just under two minutes to play. But Thielen fumbled on the first play after hauling in an 11-yard catch.

Unlike last week after the win over the Buccaneers, which had affirmed the promise of Minnesota’s offense, the locker room was somber and on edge. On Sunday, there was only uncertainty surrounding the status of Cook and the potential return of Bradford, although Keenum said he didn’t know when that might be.

Thielen didn’t dote on those possibilities, either. When he was asked about the emotional swings of the season, he simply said: “It’s a week to week league and you have to bring your best each week. Otherwise you’ll have turnouts like tonight.”

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