Dalvin Cook's absence could end up being shorter than some may have expected. It might simply be a product of need.
Cook (shoulder) is officially listed as questionable for Minnesota's Thursday night contest against the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Cook was upgraded from a non-participant in Monday's walk-through session to a limited participant in each of the last two days, though on a short week, those sessions don't involve a full workload typical of a normal game week. It's difficult to tell, then, just how close Cook is to playing in a pivotal game for Minnesota's playoff hopes.
Cook suffered his shoulder injury -- a dislocation and torn labrum, per NFL Network Insider Ian Rapoport -- in Minnesota's loss to San Francisco and did not play in the Vikings' last-second defeat to the previously winless Lions last weekend.
Backup Alexander Mattison shouldered the load in Week 13, carrying the ball 22 times for 90 yards and one touchdown in the 29-27 loss.
The Vikings remained optimistic Cook could come back after a few weeks of rest and rehabilitation, likely setting his return date for Week 15 against Chicago. Cook had followed a similar path of recovery late in the 2019 season before returning for the playoffs. A return Thursday would be ahead of that projected timeline, but might be necessary for the 5-7 Vikings.
Minnesota is still in the race for a wild-card berth in the NFC, but needs to stack wins down the stretch in order to catch up to Washington and San Francisco, which own each of the final two wild-card spots with identical 6-6 records. Pittsburgh is in a similar situation at 6-5-1 and could use a win to attempt to gain ground on Cincinnati, Los Angeles and Buffalo, which all own 7-5 records through 13 weeks.
Minnesota and Pittsburgh's Thursday night contest kicks off at 8:20 p.m. ET from U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis.