Three months before the Vikings secured a first-round bye Sunday behind two touchdowns from their veteran running back, Latavius Murray was below a rookie on the team’s depth chart and perhaps shaping up as a failed free-agent signing by general manager Rick Spielman.
A three-year, $15 million deal yielded 38 rushing yards and no touchdowns from Murray through the Vikings’ first four games.
But then rookie sensation Dalvin Cook suffered a season-ending injury in early October, and the reins of the team’s rushing game went to Murray, who responded with 634 yards over the final nine games to keep this rolling Vikings season on the rails.
“It was never about me starting,” Murray said after producing 111 rushing yards and two touchdowns in a 23-10 victory over the Chicago Bears. “Of course I want to start. But, to me, winning is most important.”
His play as the fill-in starting running back helped the Vikings notch 13 wins, the second most in franchise history, and earn a first-round bye.
It also solidified him as one of the more consistent backs in the NFL.
Only three other ball carriers have notched 750 rushing yards and six touchdowns in each of the past three seasons; Devonta Freeman, Todd Gurley and Mark Ingram are the others.
And only one, Ezekial Elliott, has more rushing touchdowns the past two seasons than Murray’s 20.
“I think that’s pretty cool,” Murray said. “I guess I never pay attention to those stats, but I know I try to do things for the offense, which is scoring touchdowns and running the football really well. I have to give credit to the offensive line, especially today.”
“He’s been good in his career inside the 10-yard line,” Vikings coach Mike Zimmer said. “Again, he did that today. You get in there and there’s a lot of bodies, you get a bigger guy in there and he can lower his pads and bring his big rear end and legs with him and drive it in there. He did get some help today, a couple of our guys helped shove him in there.”
With a first-round bye on the line, Murray carried the ball 20 times for his second-highest rushing total of the season.
But to his teammates, his work ethic before becoming the starting back of a Super Bowl contender was more impressive.
Murray signed with the Vikings in March with hopes of becoming the starter after three years as the front man with the Oakland Raiders. But the next month, the team drafted Cook, and Murray was forced to watch Cook flourish in training camp while Murray was hobbled with an ankle injury.
“It was impressive,” fellow running back Jerick McKinnon said. “He’s a guy who comes into work every day and gives it all he’s got. Not just for himself, but for the whole team. Knowing his situation and what he came from and then how things played out, he’s taken it and rolled with it, and it’s been impressive. All the hard work he put in showed when he got the chance.”
Now he’s leading the Vikings into a divisional-round playoff game with a record better than any Vikings team in the past 19 years.
“For us to be able to put together that many wins means we’ve done a lot of good things,” Murray said. “We have a really good team.”
Source: Twin Cities | Chad Graff | December 31, 2017