By Joe Gunther
Sam Bradford led the Minnesota Vikings on a potential game-tying drive, but his pass attempt on the two-point conversion try sailed out of the back of the end zone, giving the Dallas Cowboys a 17-15 victory Thursday at US Bank Stadium.
Bradford found Jerick McKinnon on an out pattern from the three-yard line with 25 seconds left to get the Vikings within two points. The quarterback tried to throw the ball to Kyle Rudolph in the back of the end zone, but had his throwing motion altered (more on this in the coaching section below) by a pass rusher.
The ensuing onside kick was easily recovered by Jason Witten and the Cowboys took a knee to seal the victory.
The Vikings actually had more scoring drives than the Cowboys—four to three—but failure to get in the end zone on their first three drives cost them big time. The Vikings have no room for error on offense, and they committed far too many negative plays.
T.J. Clemmings was beat on nearly every play by DeMarcus Lawrence, who entered the game with just 11 tackles and one sack. He did not have one of the three Cowboys sacks, but got two big hits on Bradford.
The Vikings made some plays downfield, but could not overcome any negative play. False start penalties and quarterback pressures were the biggest deterrents. Right tackle Jeremiah Sirles had the biggest problem with false starts, most notably on the two-point try that pushed the ball back from the two-yard line to the seven.
The Vikings defense was outstanding against one of the best offenses in the league. The Cowboys had two scoring drives and one was a short one that resulted in a field goal. On the one touchdown drive they allowed, Anthony Barr over-pursued and slipped as Prescott cut back to pick up a first down on third-and-13 deep in Cowboys territory. Then Harrison Smith let Bryant run past him for a 56-yard gain to the Vikings’ one-yard a couple plays later.
Minnesota’s defense made a few mistakes that cost them on that drive, but giving up just a couple big plays in a game is going to happen and shouldn’t be what makes or breaks a win.
Danielle Hunter was the star of the defense with six tackles, two sacks, two tackles for a loss and three quarterback hits. Brian Robison also made a big play with a strip-sack in the first half.
Special Teams: D
Kicker Kai Forbath made all three of his field goal attempts. Everything else was a disaster, though.
Jeff Locke, who had been the team’s most improved player and potential Pro Bowler, had a very bad game. He averaged just 32 yards, but had two punts of less than 30 yards and just one over 40.
The punt return unit had one major miscue and nearly a second. The first was a fumble by Adam Thielen that was initially called down, but overturned on review, and the Cowboys went ahead for good on the first play.
Lowering the special teams’ grade further, Vikings’ lone touchdown nearly didn’t happen. Cordarrelle Patterson muffed a Cowboys punt late in the fourth quarter. Luckily, linebacker Audie Cole was in the right place at the right time as the ball bounced up into his arms and was recovered by the Vikings.
It is hard to fault the coaching staff or really even judge their performance. They were put in a difficult situation with head coach Mike Zimmer out for emergency eye surgery.
The Vikings needed a few 50/50 calls go in their favor and they got none. One of the more notable was Thielen’s fumbled punt return: The replay official decided without a doubt that the Cowboys recovered the loose ball. They could have easily left the call on the field because Thielen rolled over with the ball under his arms and on his chest. It wasn’t the first close play that went against the Vikings, but it was the call that gave the Cowboys the lead.
The other big non-call was on the two-point conversion attempt. As Bradford launched his pass over the head of Kyle Rudolph, the Cowboys defender hit him in the face. It should have been a penalty. It didn’t decide the game, but cost the Vikings a second chance to tie it.
The Vikings begin the final quarter of their season with a trip to Jacksonville to take on the lowly (2-9) Jaguars.