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Understudies Alexander Mattison, K.J. Osborn shine despite Vikings coming up short

Forced into bigger roles due to injuries suffered by Dalvin Cook and Adam Thielen, the Minnesota Vikings got important contributions from running back Alexander Mattison and wide receiver KJ Osborn, but still became the Lions first victims of the season.

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DETROIT -- There was a fair amount of purple in the audience at a roughly half-full Ford Field on Sunday. And almost none among those Vikings faithful were repping Alexander Mattison or KJ Osborn with their replica jerseys.

But on this afternoon, with the skies outside as gray as the nondescript uniforms the Detroit Lions wore, it was the offensive understudies forced into prominent roles.

Star running back Dalvin Cook was out of the game before it began, hurt last weekend in California. Star wide receiver Adam Thielen started and departed this one early, rolling his left ankle on a third down catch in the game’s first three minutes.

Those developments left Mattison to carry the load from the backfield, and Osborn to be the second option in the passing game, behind emerging star Justin Jefferson.

Jefferson was the primary attraction for the Vikings in Sunday’s come-from-ahead loss to the previously-winless Lions, catching 11 balls for 182 yards and a touchdown. But when it became just a bit too obvious that Jefferson was the target, Osborn proved to be a viable option for Kirk Cousins, especially on an early fourth quarter drive that netted the Vikings their first touchdown.

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Osborn, who hails from nearby Ypsilanti, Mich., caught four passes for 47 yards. Three of the balls he hauled in came on that lone drive, which ended with Osborn hauling in a five-yard pass from Cousins in the end zone. His work, on an afternoon that ended in disappointment despite the work of the understudies, did not go unnoticed.

“I’m proud of several guys who stepped it up. KJ played in Adam’s absence, KJ does a great job,” said Cousins in his subdued post-game remarks. “I’ve got a lot of confidence in him, and no surprise that he played at a high level.”

It was Osborn’s biggest game since the second-year player from Miami had six catches for 78 yards and a touchdown during an October win at Carolina. His emergence gives the Vikings a new one-two punch in the passing game, just in case Thielen’s return is delayed.

“KJ’s made a lot of plays throughout the course of the year and obviously Jefferson’s a really good player,” said Vikings coach Mike Zimmer, who also gave a nod to tight end Ty Conklin, who had nine catches for 56 yards.

It was not an unfamiliar role for Mattison, the third-year running back from Boise State, who has had to take over “primary ball carrier” duties due to various Cook injuries during his time with the Vikings. He finished with 22 carries for 90 yards and a touchdown, and also caught three passes for 34 yards and got credit for Zimmer for a few great runs, although the coach added that the offense had missed on a few plays as well. It was the third biggest day for Mattison this season, after he went over 100 yards in home wins over Seattle and Detroit earlier.

“Alex Mattison did a great job in Dalvin’s absence,” Cousins said, also crediting Jefferson’s big night and the makeshift offensive line for protecting him much of the night.

And in the end, it wasn’t enough. A last-second touchdown pass by Jared Goff gave the Lions fans their first victory of the season to savor, in December, and left the Vikings reeling with five games to play and the playoffs rapidly slipping out of view.

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