When the Vikings fail to make the playoffs this 2020 season, they shouldn’t look at the losses to the Titans and Seahawks. They should look at the home losses to the Atlanta Falcons and, most recently, the Dallas Cowboys.
Dallas limped into Minneapolis with a 2-7 record and no direction. They left a 31-28 winner and put a huge crimp in any Vikings’ hopes of a playoff run. The win put Dallas right in the thick of the NFC East race, which is kind of a three-legged one at a company picnic after some heavy day drinking.
The loss dropped Minnesota to 4-6.
HE’LL SHOOT YOUR EYE OUT
Things got off to a rough start for Minnesota early.
Kirk Cousins had the ball stolen from his arm on an opening drive strip-sack. Donovan Wilson ended up with the ball, and after a review, confirmed the turnover. Dallas drove 30 yards in just three plays with a Zeke Elliott six-yard TD run ending it. The big play on the drive was a 21-yard pass from Andy Dalton to CeeDee Lamb. The extra point was blocked, but Dallas led 6-0.
Minnesota answered with a time-consuming 12-play, 75-yard touchdown drive. Dalvin Cook punched one in from a yard out and the extra point from Dan Bailey gave the Vikings a 7-6 lead. On the drive, Cousins completed four of his five passes for 59 yards.
Dallas would embark on a solid drive of its own, but a diving interception by Eric Kendricks at the Minnesota 17-yard line ended the threat. Minnesota tried some “trickeration” when special teams coach Marwan Maalouf called for a fake punt. Vikings punter Britton Colquitt found cornerback Kris Boyd wide open for what would have been a 23-yard gain. Unfortunately, Boyd couldn’t keep himself still when he saw how open he was, and the Vikings were hit with a five-yard penalty for an illegal shift. Boyd doubled up on his mistake when he was whistled for a push in the back on the punt that set Dallas up on their own 48-yard line. Dallas took advantage, putting together a 52-yard touchdown drive that ended with a four-yard touchdown pass from Dalton to Lamb and a 13-7 lead.
Minnesota looked to put points on the board just before the half, but an ill-timed Dalvin Cook fumble gave Dallas the ball at their own 31-yard line with 49 seconds left. “The Red Rifle” efficiently drove the Cowboys to the Vikings’ two before they had to settle for a Greg Zuerlein 19-yard field goal and a 16-7 halftime lead.
ONE FOR THE ‘BOYS
Minnesota needed a spark and got it to start the second half. The Vikings drove 75 yards in nine plays. The drive left Minnesota fans “Thielen groovy” when Adam Thielen made a pretty, one-handed, toe-tap, two-yard touchdown catch of a Kirk Cousins pass. The extra point cut the Dallas lead to 16-14 and things were looking up in Minneapolis.
It looked even better when, after a Cowboys punt, the Vikings moved 81 yards in 12 plays, culminating in the second Cousins-to-Thielen touchdown pass of the quarter, this one from three yards out. The extra point gave the Vikings a 21-16 lead after one play in the fourth quarter.
It wouldn’t take long for Dallas to take back the momentum. On the fifth play after the kickoff, Cowboys backup running back Tony Pollard took a handoff and scampered 42 yards for the go-ahead touchdown. Vikings cornerback Chris Jones had a chance to stop Pollard, but it appeared as though he had something better he’d rather be doing.
This one was back-and-forth like a gold-medal table tennis match.
Minnesota would have its own five-play drive that finished with Cousins finding Justin Jefferson for a 39-yard score, putting the Vikings back up top, 28-24. The defense had a rare strong series and forced a punt that gave Minnesota the ball back with 5:54 to play.
It was at this point that Vikings’ offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak decided that what was working should not be used again for the remainder of the game. This strategy did not work well, as Minnesota moved the ball just 12 yards and they punted back to Dallas.
More poor punt coverage set the Cowboys up at their own 39-yard line. It would take a mere 2:23 for Dallas to cover 61 yards to take back the lead when the ‘Double Dalton’ connection of Andy Dalton to a wide-open Dalton Schultz from two yards out and extra point made it a 31-28 Cowboys’ lead.
There were two keys play on the drive. The first was a 10-yard completion from Dalton to Amari Cooper on 4th-and-6. It was an easy pitch-and-catch, with Dalton having plenty of time to finish a full-course Thanksgiving dinner in the pocket. The second was a dropped interception by Boyd in the end zone that would have effectively ended the game.
Minnesota would get the ball back with just under two minutes left, but could not even record a first down. A key play on the final possession was a Justin Jefferson dropped pass that would have moved the Vikings out near their own 40-yard line with a new set of downs.
This one hurt, and will remain painful for the rest of the season.
BY THE NUMBERS
Andy Dalton looked like an All-Pro thanks to the Minnesota defense. He completed 22-of-32 passes for 203 yards and two touchdowns with the Kendricks interception. Zeke Elliott had his best game of the season, rushing for 103 yards on 21 carries. Pollard added 60 rushing yards, most of that coming on his touchdown run. The top receiver for Dallas was Amari Cooper with 81 yards on six grabs.
Kirk Cousins had another strong outing. He completed 22-of-30 passes for 314 yards and three touchdowns. Dalvin Cook led the rushing game with 115 yards on 27 carries with one touchdown run. He added 45 yards receiving, but had that critical fumble. Adam Thielen was the shining star among the receivers. He had 123 yards on eight catches with two touchdowns. Jefferson added 80 yards on three catches but also had that unfortunate drop.
The Vikings take on the Carolina Panthers, coming off of a 20-0 win over the Detroit Lions that moved their record to 4-5. Dallas plays its traditional Thanksgiving Day game with the Washington Football Team providing the opposition, coming off of their 20-9 win over the Cincinnati Bengals that improved their record to 3-7.
(Featured Image Credit: Vikings.com)