It's pretty telling that the Cowboys can play a bad game of football and still prevail. That occurred earlier in the year when Dallas was sloppy in an overtime victory against the Eagles, and the same thing occurred in this contest.
The Cowboys made a number of mistakes throughout the evening. Ezekiel Elliott lost a fumble in the first quarter in his own territory, as Anthony Barr stripped it away. The play was overturned by replay review, but it was still an indicator that Dallas wouldn't be at its best at Minnesota. Elliott had a long run negated by a hold at the end of the first quarter. Lucky Whitehead then lost a fumble. An illegal-hands-to-the-face penalty nullified a Sam Bradford interception by Anthony Hitchens. And all of this was just in the opening half!
The mistakes continued for Dallas following intermission. Dak Prescott lost a fumble on a Brian Robison strip-sack, setting up a Minnesota field goal. Prescott then fumbled again while trying to run out the clock, but Elliott was able to recover the ball. With all of these mistakes, the Vikings hung around and even led 9-7. They forced a punt and would retain possession with a two-point advantage early in the fourth quarter. However, the tide turned when Adam Thielen muffed a punt. The Cowboys recovered, and one play later, Prescott found Dez Bryant for what would turn out to be the game-winning touchdown. Minnesota would reach the end zone to cover the spread with 25 seconds remaining, but missed on the two-point conversion because right tackle Jeremiah Sirles was guilty of a false start. On the actual play, the officials missed an obvious blow to the head on Bradford.
It's a shame for the Vikings that they lost because they had a great defensive game plan against the Cowboys. Elliott was limited to 90 rushing yards for the first time since Week 2. Elliott gained 86 yards and a touchdown on 20 carries, but 30 of his yards came on one attempt. He otherwise was limited to 56 yards on 19 tries. He also had a fumble overturned by replay, as mentioned. Granted, Elliott had a long burst negated by penalty, but Minnesota did a great job tackling him for minimal gains.
The Vikings also restricted Prescott to a season-low passing yardage total. Prescott went just 12-of-18 for 139 yards and a touchdown to go along with 37 rushing yards on six scrambles. He was guilty of two fumbles, one of which was lost. He still made some great plays - a 14-yard run of his on a third-and-13 set up the first touchdown - but he definitely didn't look like himself because of Minnesota's terrific defense.
Elliott's sole score went to Bryant, who caught four passes for 84 yards and the decisive touchdown. Bryant was just one of four Dallas players to catch passes. The others were Cole Beasley (2-23), Elliott (4-19) and Terrance Williams (2-13). Jason Witten didn't log a reception for the first time in 130 games, though he did recover Minnesota's last-gasp onside kick attempt at the end of the game.
Moving on to the Vikings, the defensive players have to feel extremely frustrated that their offense let them down once again. The special teams did as well, and I'll get to them later, but Bradford was underwhelming. He made some nice plays, including a third-and-16 conversion to Thielen in the early going. However, he was once again Captain Checkdown, going 32-of-45 for only 247 yards and a touchdown. That's a YPA of 5.49, which is trending into Brodie Croyle territory. He was also picked off on one occasion, but that was negated by a penalty. Bradford had some ugly checkdowns, where he tossed a 1-yard pass on third-and-6 and then hurled a 6-yard throw on third-and-18 with seven minutes remaining. Bradford had Stefon Diggs back, so there was no excuse like there happened to be on Thanksgiving. His offensive line sucked again, but there were plenty of occasions in which he had plenty of time in the pocket and didn't look downfield. He did take a couple of shots, but they weren't very successful.
Speaking of Diggs, he snatched all eight of his targets for 59 yards, but didn't find the end zone. Neither did Thielen (7-86) nor Kyle Rudolph (6-45). Jerick McKinnon (5-14) had Bradford's sole touchdown.
Speaking of McKinnon, he led the Vikings with 41 yards on nine carries. Matt Asiata (6-30) wasn't far behind. The Vikings desperately need Adrian Peterson back, but by the time he's ready to return, it could already be too late. Minnesota probably needs to win out, given that it has to finish the year with one more victory than Detroit as a result of the season sweep.
As for the Vikings' special teams, the unit effectively lost this game. The Thielen muff was absolutely crushing, while Jeff Locke's horrible punting didn't help. Locke averaged just 32 yards per punt in this contest, compared to Dallas' average of 46.2. On one occasion, he booted a net punt of only 16 yards.
Broncos XX, Jaguars XX
Falcons XX, Chiefs XX
Saints XX, Lions XX
Packers XX, Texans XX
Patriots XX, Rams XX
Ravens XX, Dolphins XX
Bears XX, 49ers XX
Bears XX, Eagles XX
Raiders XX, Bills XX
Chargers XX, Buccaneers XX
Steelers XX, Giants XX
Cardinals XX, Redskins XX
Seahawks XX, Panthers XX
Jets XX, Colts XX
For more thoughts, check out my updated NFL Power Rankings, which will be posted Tuesday morning.
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