Cowboys hold off Vikes, get help from officials: Final score, 9 things to know
The Cowboys took one step closer to clinching a playoff berth with a wild win in MInnesota
To win in Minnesota on Thursday night, the Dallas Cowboys did something unexpected: They gave the Minnesota Vikings a taste of their own medicine.
The Cowboys used their defense and they even forced a turnover as they held on for a wild 17-15 victory in shiny, new U.S. Bank Stadium.
For Cowboys fans, watching their team force a turnover probably seemed like a minor miracle considering that the Cowboys hadn't forced a turnover since a 29-23 Week 8 win over the Philadelphia Eagles in October. This is how ugly things had gotten before Thursday night.
The Cowboys have gone 18 consecutive quarters without a takeaway, NFL's longest active streak. Last takeaway: 4th quarter of Week 8 vs PHI.— NFL Research (@NFLResearch) December 2, 2016
The forced turnover came at a huge time in the fourth quarter when the Cowboys were trailing 9-7.
After a series where the Dallas offense was forced to punt -- that happened a lot on the night -- Cowboys special teams ace Vince Mayle made a perfect tackle on Vikings punt returner Adam Thielen that knocked the ball out.
Mayle's teammate, Kyle Wilber, saw the loose ball and pounced on it immediately, giving the Cowboys possession at Minnesota's 10-yard line.
One play later, this happened.
That Dez Bryant 10-yard touchdown catch and run gave the Cowboys a 14-9 lead. Bryant finished the game with four catches for 84 yards and a touchdown. The touchdown catch was the 65th of Bryant's Cowboys career, tying him with Michael Irvin for second most all-time.
Speaking of Bryant, although the Cowboys offense was shut down for most of the night, the new triplets did make an appearance on one pivotal drive in the second quarter that was the Cowboys' only drive of over 37 yards.
On the second-quarter drive, all of the Cowboys' playmakers came through.
First, Dak Prescott converted a third-and-13 just to keep the drive alive.
Four plays later, Dak found Dez for a 56-yard bomb that took the Cowboys down to the Vikings' 1-yard line.
After that, Ezekiel Elliott sealed the deal with a 1-yard touchdown run that capped the eight-play, 87-yard scoring drive.
Again, that was the only Cowboys drive of the entire game that went for over 37 yards. Bryant's 56-yard catch accounted for almost half of Prescott's passing yards. The Cowboys quarterback finished 12 of 18 for 139 yards and a touchdown. He also had 37 yards rushing.
The touchdowns from Elliott and Bryant were enough to keep the Cowboys in the game thanks to a stout Dallas defense that put constant pressure on Sam Bradford for four quarters. The Cowboys recorded three sacks and even knocked Bradford out of the game for a series near the end of the first half.
Demarcus Lawrence (nine pressures), Anthony Hitchens (10 tackles, one sack) and Sean Lee are all going to be in Bradford's nightmares.
If anyone was worried that the Cowboys were all finesse, they don't need to worry anymore because the Cowboys proved Thursday that they can hit back if they get punched in the mouth like they did by the Vikings.
In the past three weeks, the Cowboys have proven that they can beat anyone with victories over the league's No. 2 defense ( Baltimore Ravens , 27-17), No. 3 defense (Vikings) and No. 2 offense ( Washington Redskins , 31-26).
The Cowboys are the chameleons of the NFL this year: They can adapt to any playing style and beat you at your own game. That's not good news for the rest of the NFC as this team looks to have the No. 1 seed on lock down.
Alright, let's get to eight more things to know from the game.
Close, but no cigar
This game had a wild finish that ended with a crazy no-call on the Vikings' final play of the game. With Minnesota trailing 17-9, Sam Bradford drove the Vikings 65 yards in just 1:44 for a touchdown that cut the Cowboys' lead to 17-15 with just 25 seconds left.
At that point, the Vikings needed a two-point conversion to keep the game alive, but they didn't get it because Bradford threw the worst pass possible. However, after the play Bradford complained to the refs that he was hit in the facemask, which is why he threw the ball away.
Although replay showed the Bradford was clearly hit in the facemask, the officials didn't call it and the two-point conversion was ruled no good, giving the game to the Cowboys.
On the other hand, even if the officials had called the penalty, the Vikings would've only gotten the ball at the 3.5 yard-line. Before Minnesota attempted its two-pointer, it was hit with a false start penalty taking it back to the 7-yard line. The roughing the passer penalty would've then been half the distance to the goal line, the 3.5.
That being said, Cowboys fans could argue the penalty shouldn't count because the play should've never gotten to that point. Just before the snap, Vikings tackle T.J. Clemmings had a false start, but the officials didn't throw a flag. If the officials had correctly thrown a flag, then the blow to Bradford's head wouldn't have happened and Minnesota would've tried the two-pointer again, this time from the 12-yard line.
Ezekiel Elliott makes Cowboys history
There's a good chance that by end of the season Ezekiel Elliott is going to hold every rookie rushing record in Cowboys history, and he got one step closer to doing that when he tied one of the team's most hallowed rookie records against Minnesota.
Elliott scored a touchdown in the first quarter against the Vikings, which was his 12th of the year.
That 1-yard touchdown run tied Elliott with Tony Dorsett for the most rookie rushing touchdowns in team history. Earlier this season, Elliott broke Dorsett's single-season rookie record for most rushing yards. Elliott finished the game with 86 yards on 20 carries and now has an NFL-leading 1,285 yards.
Jason Witten also kind of made history in the game, but not the good kind. The tight end finished with zero catches, marking the first time since November 2008 that he didn't catch a pass in a game. The zero-reception game ended Witten's 130-game streak of catching at least one pass.
On the bright side, Witten did make a big play: He recovered the Vikings' onside kick after Minnesota's failed two-pointer with 25 seconds left.
Thanks for the help Cincinnati Bengals , signed Vikings
Bengals fans haven't had much to cheer about this season, so they might be happy to know that their team actually played a big part in the Vikings' ability to shut down the Cowboys offense. Vikings coach Mike Zimmer used to be the defensive coordinator for the Bengals, so he decided to call his former colleagues when he was putting the game plan together.
Mike Zimmer made game plan after talking to his former asst Paul Guenther, Bengals DC. They created double-A blitz. Dallas beat Cincy Week 6— Ed Werder (@Edwerderespn) December 2, 2016
Although the Vikings lost, the game plan worked because Minnesota's defense pretty much shut down the Cowboys for almost four quarters. Dallas only put up 264 yards of offense, which was the team's lowest total all season (their prior low was 328 yards, in a Week 1 loss to the New York Giants ).
It probably makes Bengals fans feel a lot better knowing their defensive coordinator did a better job game-planning for the Cowboys-Vikings than he did for the Bengals-Cowboys game. The Cowboys put up over 400 yards in a 28-14 Week 5 win over the Bengals.
The Vikings performance was even more impressive when you consider that coach Mike Zimmer wasn't on the sideline for this game. Zimmer, who usually calls the team's defensive plays, was forced to stay at home after undergoing emergency eye surgery Wednesday.
With Zimmer out, defensive coordinator George Edwards had to handle defensive play-calling duties, and he did a great job, considering he had just found out less than 24 hours beforehand that he was going to handle play calls.
Vikings special teams falls apart
Apparently, Blair Walsh wasn't the only problem the Vikings were having with their special teams this year. Although Walsh is no longer on the team, the unit is still struggling, and you could argue that they cost the Vikings the game Thursday.
First up, there was Thielen's fumble on a punt return, which gave the Cowboys possession at Minnesota's 10-yard line. As we already mentioned, the Cowboys got a touchdown one play after the turnover on a Prescott-to-Bryant touchdown pass.
The other special teams gaffes came from punter Jeff Locke , who had possibly the worst game of any punter this season. Locke punted seven times and averaged only 32 yards per punt. That includes punts of 16, 25 and 33 yards when the Vikings weren't trying to kick it short. The 33-yard punt, which came in the fourth quarter, gave Dallas possession at its own 46-yard line. Five plays later, the Cowboys got in field goal range and took a 17-9 lead when Dan Bailey hit a 39-yard field goal.
There was almost another gaffe late in the fourth quarter when Cordarrelle Patterson fumbled a punt.
However, the Vikings avoided catastrophe on that play because they were able to recover the fumble.
The lone bright spot of the Vikings special teams was kick Kai Forbath , who went 3 for 3 on field goals in the game with kicks from 48, 36 and 33 yards.
Cowboys could clinch a playoff berth on Sunday
Sorry Vikings fans, this section doesn't pertain to you right now. I'm only talking to Cowboys fans. After the victory over Minnesota, the Cowboys could become the first team to clinch a playoff berth if one of two things goes their way Sunday. If the Tampa Bay Buccaneers lose or tie to the San Diego Chargers , then Dallas clinches a playoff berth.
However, if that doesn't happen, the Cowboys can still wrap up a playoff berth this weekend if the Redskins lose to the Arizona Cardinals . If both teams win, then the Cowboys will have to wait until Week 14 to clinch a playoff berth.
As for the Vikings (6-6), they could be two games out of the NFC North lead if the Detroit Lions (7-4) beat the New Orleans Saints on Sunday. That would actually be a three-game deficit for all intents and purposes because the Lions hold the division tiebreaker over the Vikings thanks to a season sweep.
Color Rush uniforms
After a one-week break for Thanksgiving, the Color Rush uniforms returned Thursday. Although there was nothing exciting about the Cowboys' uniforms -- they wore the same ones last year -- we did get to see something brand new when Minnesota took the field.
The Vikings uniform combo above marked the first time that they wore an all-purple uniform with gold numbers. In 2013, the Vikings did wear an all-purple uniform, but those jerseys had white numbers.
Oh, and did I say the there was nothing exciting about the Cowboys' Color Rush uniforms? I take that back.
Ezekiel Elliott did unveil a crop top version.
Zeke wearing half of his color rush jersey. pic.twitter.com/uGNXWRdvHM— NFL on ESPN (@ESPNNFL) December 2, 2016
If the NFL decides to sell that version, hopefully it's half price.
Check out those kicks
The Color Rush uniforms weren't the only unique thing about what the players were wearing Thursday night. For the first time, the NFL allowed players to wear whatever cleats they wanted, but with one catch: The cleats had to support a charity.
The league decided to relax its shoe rule for Week 13 only as part of its My Cause, My Cleats campaign. Over a dozen players decided to participate by wearing a new set of cleats during the game.
Here's a small sample of the cleats that were worn on Thursday night.
(Top left: Dak Prescott. Top right: Adam Thielen. Bottom left: Everson Griffen . Bottom right: Ezekiel Elliott)
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