Running back Alexander Mattison cleared concussion protocol before Sunday night's 21-20 loss to the Broncos in Denver. He had mixed results in spearheading the Vikings' balanced, if not run-focused, attack.
Mattison looked healthy when shedding one Broncos defender and dragging another three defenders during a 15-yard run in the first quarter. He finished with 81 rushing yards. Running back Ty Chandler added a career-high 110 yards from scrimmage, including 73 rushing. The Vikings entered averaging 86 rushing yards per game.
Ccoach Kevin O'Connell leads one of the most pass-heavy offenses in the NFL. But he talked about establishing the run throughout the week, knowing no defense had allowed more yardage, rushing and receiving, to running backs than the Broncos.
But Mattison's fumbling returned in the third quarter. Broncos defensive tackle D.J. Jones jarred the ball loose to mark the Vikings' third turnover of the game. Mattison also lost a fumble in the Week 2 loss at Philadelphia.
"It was a big play," O'Connell said. "I thought Alex ran the ball really well tonight, so did Ty. I saw a really nice balance of both of those guys out there. There's no question it was a critical play, but not one we couldn't overcome."
O'Connell turned to the run to settle the offense after a rocky start that included a third-down fumble by quarterback Joshua Dobbs — the Vikings' fifth turnover on an opening drive this season — and a punt. The Vikings ran on four straight plays, gaining 23 yards, to kick-start a touchdown drive.
Dobbs' scrambling continued to be a difference-maker. He ran for a 10-yard touchdown in the third quarter to give the Vikings a 17-9 lead. Dobbs has six rushing touchdowns this season, three each for the Cardinals and Vikings, and currently leads both teams in rushing scores. The only player since 1930 to lead two different teams in rushing scores is Herschel Walker, who did so for the Vikings and Cowboys in 1989, according to the NFL.
Mattison is still looking for his first rushing touchdown of the season. Mattison ran from the Denver 3-yard line in the second quarter, but was tackled behind the line for a loss. The Vikings have just one rushing touchdown on 12 carries inside the opponent's 5-yard line this season, according Pro Football Reference.
Chandler converted a second fake punt of the season, taking a direct snap in the fourth quarter and running 31 yards.
"A big momentum play," O'Connell said. "Hoping to try to put the game in a place where we could defend it and win it."
Blackmon makes first NFL start
Rookie cornerback Mekhi Blackmon made his first NFL start, replacing an injured Akayleb Evans. The third-round pick was often in the sights of Broncos quarterback Russell Wilson, including on the 15-yard, game-losing touchdown to Courtland Sutton.
Sutton also caught a 33-yard pass over Blackmon in the first half. Jerry Jeudy had a couple 19-yard gains on the rookie. After one of Jeudy's catches, Blackmon responded with a strong tackle on Broncos running back Jaleel McLaughlin in the open field. Two plays later, Denver settled for a field goal.
Safety Lewis Cine, the 2022 first-round pick, was a healthy scratch for the fifth time this season. The team elevated cornerback Joejuan Williams from the practice squad for depth. Williams broke up an end-zone pass to Jeudy in the fourth quarter. Evans, who has made 10 starts this year, did not play due to a calf injury suffered in last week's win against the Saints.
Barr plays right away
Just five days after re-signing with the Vikings, linebacker Anthony Barr played a part-time role for the injury-thinned defense. Barr was elevated from the practice squad and got into the game in the second quarter, when he dropped into coverage on third down and tackled Jeudy short of the first down. He also played on the final drive.
A committee was needed to replace linebacker Jordan Hicks, who was placed on injured reserve last week following leg surgery. Rookie linebacker Ivan Pace Jr. wore the in-helmet microphone to communicate defensive play calls from coordinator Brian Flores to the rest of the defense. Safety Josh Metellus and linebacker Troy Dye also played more in the middle.
Linebacker Brian Asamoah II missed a fourth game due to an ankle injury.
• Edge rusher Danielle Hunter sacked Wilson in the opening possession, giving him 12 for the season. He is a half-sack away from another $1 million bonus; he earned $1 million for reaching 11 sacks this season.
• Tight end Josh Oliver's 29-yard catch in the third quarter was his fourth of the game — tying a career high for the 26-year-old blocker — en route to 47 yards and a touchdown.
• Defensive tackle Dean Lowry suffered a chest injury in the second quarter and did not return.
• Quarterback Nick Mullens, who was listed questionable, was active as the backup quarterback for the first time since the Oct. 1 win in Carolina.
• The Vikings opened as 3½-point favorites for next week's home game against the Bears, according to sportsbooks, scheduled for Nov. 27 on "Monday Night Football."
The Star Tribune did not send the writer of this article to the game. This was written using a broadcast, interviews and other material.