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Latavius Murray keeps Vikings in the running

Two touchdowns propel NFC North leaders to sixth straight victory

MINNEAPOLIS — Let’s not forget that Latavius Murray wasn’t at the head of the line. Among Minnesota Vikings running backs, a rookie initially stood there. But an injury created an opening for Murray, who raced through it and is still going.

Now, deep into what has developed into a wonderful season for the Vikings, Murray is thriving in a lead role. It only got better for them Sunday afternoon after their most impressive victory, a complete dismantling of the Los Angeles Rams, 24-7.

Murray led the charge on the ground. He amassed a game-high 95 yards with two rushing touchdowns and a sparkling 6.3-yard average for the red-hot Vikings, who with their sixth consecutive victory improved to 8-2 and are alone atop the NFC North. With Minnesota’s offensive line and Murray controlling the clock — the Vikings held nearly a 15-minute advantage in time of possession — the NFC West-leading Rams (7-3) were clearly out of sync in having their winning streak ended at four games.

How impressive was the Vikings’ all-around performance? Consider:

  • Beginning play Sunday, the Rams had an NFL-high 19 takeaways.
  • They ranked third in the league in scoring defense at 18 points per game.
  • With 28 sacks, the Rams were tied for the fifth-most in the NFL.

Against Minnesota, one couldn’t tell Los Angeles rolled like that at all.

Murray’s big game provided the foundation for Minnesota to rush for 171 yards (with a 4.9-yard average) and outgain Los Angeles in total net yards, 451 to 254. The Rams had no sacks. They had no takeaways.

The Vikings were all about relying on their running game in a matchup of two of the NFC’s best teams. And after Murray’s impressive performance, there was no second-guessing Minnesota’s strategy.

“He’s awesome,” left guard Nick Easton said of Murray. “You know he’s gonna hit the hole downhill and go forward for yards. If you can count on guys not to have a whole bunch of negative plays, that’s huge for O-linemen. We love him. … There’s definitely trust there.”

Strong performances tend to inspire belief. Recently, Murray has had a nice stretch.

In last week’s 38-30 road win over the Washington Redskins, Murray had a solid outing, finishing with 68 yards rushing, a 4.0-yard average and a touchdown. Two weeks before, he had his highest yardage total of the season in the Vikings’ 24-16 win against the Baltimore Ravens: 113 rushing yards, a 6.3-yard average and one touchdown.

That’s a trend Murray likes.

“Just been trying to get better,” he said. “Just continue to find ways to improve. As long as I keep that attitude and keep that mindset, I’ll be happy with the results.”

Early on, the results weren’t good.

After three solid seasons with the Oakland Raiders, the former University of Central Florida standout signed with the Vikings in the offseason. Minnesota had moved on from Adrian Peterson, a longtime superstar who, at 32, was on an inevitable decline. (Peterson joined the New Orleans Saints and didn’t fit in well, but he has had a couple of big games since being acquired by the Arizona Cardinals, twice rushing for more than 130 yards.)

In his second season with the Raiders, Murray rushed for more than 1,000 yards. Last season, he scored 12 touchdowns. For a guy picked in the sixth round (181st overall) of the 2013 draft, Murray arrived in Minnesota with legit credentials. Through his first six games, however, Murray failed to rush for 40 yards. It just wasn’t happening for him.

Meanwhile, rookie Dalvin Cook started fast, opening with 127 yards in a 29-19 victory over the New Orleans Saints. The former Florida State All-American established himself as the team’s No. 1 back in the first four weeks. Then, in a 14-7 loss to the Detroit Lions, Cook suffered a season-ending knee injury.

After Cook was sidelined, Murray’s workload within the offense steadily increased. The Vikings haven’t lost since.

Murray was quick to praise the offensive line Sunday, repeating that “to have no turnovers and no sacks versus a really good defense like that … it all starts with those guys. That’s big-time.”

The offensive linemen couldn’t have done it without Murray, they said.

“The Rams can score quickly, so being able to run the ball was crucial,” left tackle Riley Reiff said. “Latavius was running hard. Every week, he’s getting a little bit better and he’s running hard. It’s hard for one guy to bring him down, and it’s fun blocking for him.”

These days, the Vikings are having nothing but fun. And if Murray and the Vikings keep it going, there’s no telling when the good times will end.

Jason Reid is the senior NFL writer at The Undefeated. He enjoys watching sports, especially any games involving his son and daughter.