MINNEAPOLIS — After playing just four preseason snaps in 2018 and sitting out the Minnesota Vikings' first two exhibition games this season, running back Dalvin Cook showed less is more in his 2019 debut.

The third-year Florida State product had a 3-yard carry in Minnesota's three-and-out opening drive. But in the team's second series against the Arizona Cardinals on Saturday afternoon, Cook cut the ball back and split two defenders on his way to taking the ball 85 yards to the house.

"It was well blocked, well executed and it was certainly a bright spot," quarterback Kirk Cousins said. "Absolutely great run by him."

"That was amazing to see," fellow running back Mike Boone said. "Dalvin comes in and does some Dalvin Cook things. He broke off an 80-plus yarder and it looked like he wasn't even running fast."

Cook's day was over, as coach Mike Zimmer is limiting Cook's exposure in the preseason. Without Cook, the Vikings offense followed up the score with five punts and two missed field goals.

In what will likely be the only game this preseason in which the first-team offense sees extended action, it could not be more clear how critical it is for the Vikings to have a healthy Cook on the field.

Sure, the Vikings didn't play star receiver Adam Thielen in the 20-7 victory. But... Cousins and the rest of the starters painted a pretty bleak picture of what might be the offense's floor.

Two first downs. Three completions for 35 yards. Two holding penalties (one declined).

"I think, especially after Dalvin's long touchdown, they relaxed," Zimmer said. "They didn't get out of the huddle (quickly), they were slow at the line of scrimmage."

There were only two reasons the Vikings took a 7-6 lead into the locker room at halftime. The first is Minnesota's defense contained No. 1 overall pick Kyler Murray, allowing just two field goals. The second is the vision and wheels of Cook.

Alexander Mattison is an exciting rookie talent. Mike Boone has had a great preseason. C.J. Ham has proven to be a reliable option as a runner, blocker and pass catcher.

But none of them have the explosive, game-changing talent of Cook. Blessed with what the experts call "big-play potential," he has a chance to score any time he touches the football.

"I feel like if I get to the second level, it's my job to change the scoreboard," Cook said. "As a running back, you only get to the secondary so many times. I have to take advantage of those moments."

On the field for just four plays, he took advantage of his moment and showed why he is the team's most important offensive player.