Cowboys at Vikings score: Andy Dalton outlasts Kirk Cousins with help of improved defense and CeeDee Lamb

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For a third consecutive week, the Dallas Cowboys started a game looking like an actual NFL team, likely something the Minnesota Vikings didn't expect from a 2-7 club. It lead to the latter dropping one at home in 31-28 nail-biter to end the Vikings' three-game win streak. Contrarily, the Cowboys end a four-game losing streak, and now have the same number of wins (3) as the other three teams in the NFC East. 

After failing to do anything on their initial offensive drive, the Cowboys' resurgent defense got home on Kirk Cousins and forced a fumble that led to a touchdown by Ezekiel Elliott -- a rarity to land a takeaway and also to then get points off of it -- but they'd miss the extra point. That held them at six points, allowing Cousins to recover from his mistake to give the Vikings the lead late in the second quarter, but not for long. 

Dalton connected with CeeDee Lamb for a jaw-dropping touchdown catch that'll easily go down as one of the best you've seen in 2020. And with that, it was the Cowboys retaking the lead in what became a bar fight between two NFC teams heading in opposite directions -- in a game that saw six lead changes before the Cowboys finally got another much-needed defensive stop after driving down the field to punch it in with less than two minutes to play in regulation. For much of the second half, the Cowboys defense had no answer for the Vikings, but when they needed it most, they found one. 

From Ezekiel Elliott being the steady hand (21 carries, 103 yards, 1 receiving TD) to safety Donovan Wilson stepping onto center stage (two forced fumbles, 0.5 sack, nine combined tackles), there's a lot for the Cowboys to smile about heading into Thanksgiving as they finally get back into the win column.

Why the Cowboys won

Two words describe this victory for Dallas: 

They didn't. 

Allow me to add context to that sentence, if you will. It would've been easy for the Cowboys -- sitting at 2-7 on the year -- to simply lay down and call it a day after halftime, having seen Cook go on a tear that was then fueled one from Thielen, but they didn't. Their 16-7 halftime lead had long evaporated and after scoring no points in the third quarter and they could've thrown in the towel, but they didn't. They could've again called it quits after seeing Thielen torch their secondary and then watching Jefferson reel in a gut punch of a touchdown over Anthony Brown with less than 10 minutes to play in regulation, capping off a five-play 75-yard drive that gave the Vikings a 28-24 lead but -- say it with me -- they didn't. 

Instead, their gassed defensive unit mustered the energy and intestinal fortitude to mount key defensive stops, giving Dalton and the offense a chance to retake the lead in a rollercoaster contest that saw a total of six lead changes before it was all said and done. With Dalton finding tight end Dalton Schultz for a touchdown to take ownership of the lead yet again, and with under two minutes remaining plus the Vikings having more than one timeout, everybody expected the Cowboys defense to flounder on the final drive and snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.

Spoiler: They didn't. 

Why the Vikings lost

Trap game?

It sure feels like, no matter what they'll say publicly, that the Vikings walked onto the field staring at the Cowboys' record and not an NFL team that was capable of defeating them on their own field. Kirk Cousins and the offense were as flat as a punctured tire in the first half, unable to get anything going on the ground or in the air. They'd score on their second drive of the game, yes, but that was only after seeing Cousins lose a fumble on a sack by safety Donovan Wilson -- who had a breakout game with two forced fumbles on the day -- leading to the first Cowboys touchdown of the day. The short TD sprint by Cook allowed them to match serve with the Cowboys, but an interception on Dalton resulted in zero points and ultimately the Vikings couldn't get anything more than the lone touchdown before heading into the locker room at halftime.

They'd come out firing in a big way on the first offensive drive of the game, but ended the third session with only seven points, and it felt like they should've had more -- given how aggressively the momentum had shifted in their favor and punctuated by the stellar one-handed TD grab from Thielen. But, in the fourth quarter, when running back Tony Pollard answered Thielen's second touchdown with a 42-yard slap in the face to the Minnesota defense, the Cowboys instantly regained both the lead and momentum. 

Suddenly, it was the Vikings defense that looked gassed and the Cowboys looked reborn -- on both sides of the ball -- sending Minnesota to a snapped three-game win streak and into Week 12 wondering if they took Dallas seriously enough entering this game. 

Spoiler: They didn't. 

Turning Point 

At a certain point in the second half, you felt like this game was rapidly trending away from the Cowboys and toward a seemingly inevitable win for the Vikings. Dallas scored no points in the third quarter and needed something, anything, to spark their dying chances after seeing Cook, Thielen and Jefferson go on a rampage. 

Luckily for them, Tony Pollard knows CPR. 

Play of the Game 

Make no mistake about it: CeeDee Lamb is perfectly splendid. 

Is that you, Cowboys? 

"Wow. The Cowboys defense makes a stop in their biggest spot so far this season, holding the Vikings to FOUR yards, to win the football game. Incredible." -- Mike Leslie of WFAA Channel 8 Dallas

What's next

The Cowboys will now take on the Washington Football Team on Thanksgiving in an attempt to retake the top seat atop the NFC East, while the Vikings get ready to host the scrappy Carolina Panthers. 

Catch up on all the action you might've missed in the live blog below!

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Season Leaders

passing
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A. Dalton 2170 YD, 14 TDS, 8 INTS
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A. Dalton 2170 YD, 14 TDS, 8 INTS
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K. Cousins 4265 YD, 35 TDS, 13 INTS
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K. Cousins 4265 YD, 35 TDS, 13 INTS
rushing
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E. Elliott 244 ATT, 979 YD, 6 TDS
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E. Elliott 244 ATT, 979 YD, 6 TDS
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D. Cook 312 ATT, 1557 YD, 16 TDS
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D. Cook 312 ATT, 1557 YD, 16 TDS
receiving
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A. Cooper 92 REC, 1114 YD, 5 TDS
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A. Cooper 92 REC, 1114 YD, 5 TDS
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J. Jefferson 88 REC, 1400 YD, 7 TDS
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J. Jefferson 88 REC, 1400 YD, 7 TDS
Live updates
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@dallascowboys via Twitter
November 23, 2020, 1:24 AM
@Vikings via Twitter
November 23, 2020, 1:05 AM
@dallascowboys via Twitter
November 23, 2020, 12:52 AM
@Vikings via Twitter
November 23, 2020, 12:51 AM
@dallascowboys via Twitter
November 23, 2020, 12:24 AM
@dallascowboys via Twitter
November 23, 2020, 12:24 AM

Good job by Schultz to make that route CRISP. Fake the outside to force the defender to commit prematurely, then break inside and across.

Lay up for Dalton. #TD

November 23, 2020, 12:23 AM

For all this talk of the Cowboys defense, which has struggled mightily in the second half, the Vikings defense hasn't exactly been lights out, either. Dallas is in position to potentially score and take the lead again with two minutes left in regulation. What happens to cap this drive might determine the outcome of the game.

November 23, 2020, 12:18 AM

Holmes is now up and off to the sideline under his own power, but it's unclear if he'll return.

November 23, 2020, 12:15 AM

Holmes is down and writhing in pain as he grabs his shoulder. Being attended to by Vikings medical staff.

November 23, 2020, 12:15 AM

With that run, Ezekiel Elliott breaks the 100-yard mark for the first time in 2020.

November 23, 2020, 12:12 AM

Plenty of time for the Cowboys to establish a long drive (something they've yet to do) and retake the lead -- which would be the sixth lead change in this game -- but it won't be easy. Given how their defense is gassed, a quick-strike touchdown would actually not be in their favor. The points would, but not when the result is Cook and Co. getting back onto the field with three timeouts.

November 23, 2020, 12:11 AM
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