Wait—this isn’t the Minnesota football we’ve grown to know and loathe over the years!
On Saturday, the Minnesota Golden Gophers beat #4 Penn State to remain undefeated. Despite leading for most of the game, it looked like they were going to give the game away late until an interception on the last play sealed an upset victory.
On Sunday night, the Vikings did their best Gophers impression. Despite jumping out to a 14-0 lead, the Cowboys surged back to make the entire second half a nail-biter. This one had almost every trope of a heartbreaking Vikings loss down the stretch. A terrible penalty extended a crucial fourth quarter Cowboys drive and resulted in free points. The offense had a chance to put the game away but couldn’t. Dallas took over with just under five minutes remaining and marched down the field against a Minnesota defense that seemingly had no answers. As the Cowboys crept inside the red zone with under a minute remaining, the impending soul-crushing loss was seemingly inevitable. We had all seen this movie before.
Except this movie had an M. Night Shyamalan twist at the end.
The Vikings held on for a gigantic 28-24 victory to keep within striking distance of the Packers for the NFC North and firmly entrenched in the NFC Wild Card race. The boost this victory gave to the Vikings’ psyche—a road win over the league’s top offense in prime time—was almost as important as keeping pace in the standings. There is still plenty to improve upon over the past six games of the regular season (and hopefully beyond), but Sunday night showed that the Vikings could be a tough out down the stretch. Let’s take our weekly look at the five biggest plays that got us there.
Play 1: Vikings ball, 2nd & goal at the Dallas 1. First quarter, 9:33 remaining. K.Cousins pass short left to K.Rudolph for 1 yard, TOUCHDOWN.
Take a bow, Kyle Rudolph. This was Catch of the Year material.
After the Cowboys missed a long field goal on their opening drive, the Vikings set the tone in a big way with an big grab by Big Country. Dalvin Cook had 39 yards on two catches and Alexander Mattison put the Vikings on the doorstep. Rudolph celebrated turning 30 this past week by ensuring that the opening drive resulted in seven points.
The Cowboys got into Vikings territory again on their second drive, but a big pass breakup by Holton Hill on Jason Witten forced a Dallas punt. (The Vikings probably could have more of both on Sunday night. Dallas converted nine of 15 third downs. Hill only played eleven snaps, allowing zero catches on two targets while the rest of the secondary was torched.) The Vikings got a chance to take a commanding early lead, and that’s just what they did.
Play 2: Vikings ball, 1st & 10 at the Minnesota 42. First quarter, 4:01 remaining. (No Huddle) K.Cousins pass short left to D.Cook pushed ob at DAL 28 for 30 yards (D.Lawrence) [R.Quinn]. PENALTY on DAL-R.Quinn, Roughing the Passer, 14 yards, enforced at DAL 28.
Cook continued his big night in the short passing game by flipping the field on this well-designed screen pass.
The Vikings got even more than the 30 yards the play gained thanks to a pretty favorable roughing the passer penalty against Robert Quinn. He probably could have held up a bit after Cousins got the ball out, but this little shove didn’t warrant a personal foul.
Five plays later, we were all celebrating Rudolph’s second touchdown of the night. Late in the first quarter, the Vikings were up two scores and seemingly in control in Dallas.
But we’re Vikings fans. We know nothing comes that easy, especially on the road in front of a national audience. The Vikings stopped the Cowboys just after midfield yet again on their third drive, but Minnesota was quickly forced to punt it right back. Britton Colquitt had his second straight poor punt dating back to the Kansas City game, allowing Dallas to take over at the Minnesota 48. On 3rd & 12, Dak Prescott found Amari Cooper with an amazing throw and catch to the right sideline—something that would become a recurring theme throughout the evening. Two plays later, Michael Gallup galloped into the end zone on the classic “Vikings linebacker trying to cover a speedy wide receiver over the middle” coverage, and the Cowboys were on the board.
After a quick three and out by the Vikings, Prescott and the Cowboys converted three more third downs en route to another scoring drive capped off by a perfect throw and catch from Prescott to Randall Cobb. Suddenly the game was tied just inside the two-minute warning. The Vikings desperately needed an answer to regain a bit of momentum heading into the locker room.
Play 3: Vikings ball, 3rd & 3 at the Minnesota 47. Second quarter, 0:41 remaining. (Shotgun) K.Cousins pass incomplete deep right to S.Diggs. The Replay Official reviewed the incomplete pass ruling, and the play was REVERSED. (Shotgun) K.Cousins pass deep right to S.Diggs to DAL 26 for 27 yards (X.Woods).
You didn’t think Stefon Diggs was just going to let Rudolph and Cooper make all the highlight reel catches, did you?
On third down just before midfield, Diggs came up with a circus catch of his own down the right sideline. It was such a good catch the the line judge was absolutely convinced that the ball hit the turf. The replay showed that it most certainly did not.
The play was overturned and the Vikings were able to get points on the board on the final play of the first half in the form of a Dan Bailey field goal. (I can’t really explain the Cousins throw to Irv Smith Jr. on the second to last play of the first half, but points are points.) Diggs’ amazing grab allowed the Vikings to take the lead into the half, which they extended with another Bailey field goal on the opening drive of the third quarter.
The Vikings’ 20-14 advantage didn’t last long, as the Cowboys took their first lead of the game on a touchdown pass from Prescott to Cooper. It was another amazing boundary grab by Cooper that featured a likely offensive pass interference that wasn’t called.
Trailing for the first time, Minnesota answered with an impressive drive of their own that appeared to be punctuated by 17-yard Mattison touchdown run. But for the second time in the game, Mattison was ruled down at the 1. No matter; the Vikings would simply punch it in on the next play, right?
Again, this is the Vikings. Nothing comes easy.
Play 4: Vikings ball, 4th & goal at the Dallas 2. Third quarter, 0:06 remaining. D.Cook right end for 2 yards, TOUCHDOWN. DAL-A.Woods was injured during the play. His return is Questionable.
First & goal from the 1: false start.
First & goal from the 6: Cook for one yard.
Second & goal from the 5: Cook for four yards.
Third & goal from the 1: C.J. Ham stuffed for a loss of one.
With the fourth down failure in the Washington game two weeks ago, I feared that Mike Zimmer would settle for the rather disappointing field goal and a two-point lead. But to Zimmer’s credit, he got all analytics-happy and went for the touchdown.
Personally, I’m not a fan of simply lining up in a goal line set with no pre-snap motion. But maybe that doesn’t matter when you have Cook running the ball and Ham clearing space for him.
And although it wasn’t technically the fourth quarter yet, the Vikings went for two to go up by seven points instead of six. “Going with the numbers” for the conversion would prove to make a huge difference, because Rudolph played a game of keep away from Chidobe Awuzie to convert.
On the first drive of the final quarter, Prescott and the Cowboys converted yet another 3rd & long and made it to the Vikings 35. But finally, the defense made a play on third down when Danielle Hunter and Everson Griffen sacked Prescott at midfield. Until the play was overturned by a blatant defensive holding penalty where Harrison Smith nearly drug Witten to the ground.
Or, Smith made a little innocuous contact well within the five yard boundary. You be the judge.
Either way, the drive was extended and the Cowboys got a field goal instead of punting. The Vikings gained 28 yards on the ensuing drive, but punted back to the Cowboys with under five minutes remaining. Dallas was pinned deep yet had plenty of time and an aerial arsenal that had been mostly unstoppable.
Prescott found Cobb for 20 yards. Then Cooper for 10 more. Then Gallup for 13. Cooper again for 20 more yards.
The Cowboys quickly had 1st & 10 in the red zone at the two minute warning.
Prescott to Cooper again. Ball at the Minnesota 11.
Vikings fans across the globe could already see the 31-28 final score.
Play 5: Cowboys ball, 4th & 5 at the Minnesota 14. Fourth quarter, 0:40 remaining. (Shotgun) D.Prescott pass incomplete short left to E.Elliott (E.Kendricks).
On second down, the Cowboys tried the only thing that wasn’t working for their offense: handing the ball off to Ezekiel Elliott. No gain, stuffed by Eric Kendricks and Stephen Weatherly. Zeke had 20 carries for 47 yards on the night; he would have had 50 if not for this great play by Ifeadi Odenigbo on third down.
This was it. Fourth down with the game on the line. Elliott had been stymied, but the Dallas wide receivers had been carving up the Minnesota secondary all night. So the Cowboys decided to...throw in the flat to Elliott, who was being covered by one of the best linebackers in football.
Kendricks’ enormous pass breakup ended the threat and Dallas’ best chance to steal the win late. Of course, we still had to deal with Cook’s near-fumble that almost gave us a collective stroke and a last second Hail Mary that Jayron Kearse mercifully intercepted, but the Vikings were still able to escape Dallas with a huge victory.
As always, we welcome you to vote in the poll to tell us which play you thought was the biggest and encourage you to suggest any we may have missed in the comments.
What was the most important play from the Vikings’ win over the Cowboys?
This poll is closed
Rudolph’s one-handed touchdown
Screen to Cook that set up the second TD
Diggs’ circus catch just before halftime
Cook’s TD on 4th & goal
Kendricks’ pass breakup on 4th down
Other (comment below)