- The Cowboys are on their way to ensuring the road to Houston goes through Dallas, but their offense will need to play better than it did in Thursday's win over the Vikings if they want to win in January.
With their 11th straight win Thursday night against Minnesota, the Dallas Cowboys will remain atop whatever power rankings you pay attention to. Conversations about whether Dak Prescott or Ezekiel Elliott or the offensive line deserve to be the NFL MVP will continue through this weekend and into next. This team is well on its way to earning the No. 1 overall seed in the NFC playoffs and ensuring the road to Houston goes through Dallas.
But in the first NFL game of December, this Cowboys’ offense didn’t look like it was fully prepared to take on football in January. The Vikings boast one of the best defenses in the league, but that doesn’t excuse Dallas’s lack of offense in its 17–15 win.
Averaging more than 407 yards of total offense per game, Dallas only had 265 against the Vikings. The Cowboys’ seven first-half points were their fewest in a first half all season. For as good as Minnesota’s defense is—and it was much better earlier in the season—the Vikings had no business having a chance to tie the game late with only nine points on the board.
Prescott has gotten the majority of the praise for this season’s team. His mistakes have been few and he has three game-winning drives already in his young career. But he only made one great play Thursday night, scrambling for 14 yards on a third-and-13 in the first half to extend a drive.
He had a 56-yard pass to Dez Bryant that should have been a 57-yard touchdown. Prescott had great protection against a four-man rush with an empty backfield, and Bryant beat safety Harrison Smith with a stutter-step to be wide open for the touchdown. But Prescott’s throw to his top receiver was just off and caused Bryant to stumble down to the 1 rather than walk into the end zone.
That led to the only touchdown the offense could legitimately claim. The second and deciding touchdown came after Adam Thielen muffed a punt and had it taken away by the Cowboys. For whatever reason, the Vikings decided to give Bryant an 8-yard cushion 8 yards from the end zone, and he did the rest.
Prescott, who was strip-sacked in the second half, finished the game just 12-for-18 with 139 yards. He completed passes to just four receivers, and not one of them was Jason Witten. Witten, the future Hall of Famer, ended his streak of 130 consecutive games with at least one catch but improved to the best record of his career at this point in the season.
“We just stuck together. That was a good team we just played, a great defense we just played,” Prescott told NBC after the game. “But we always believed in ourselves. After some turnovers and some bad things happened….things didn’t go our way but we stayed together.”
The Cowboys’ offense must be better because their defense won’t be. Dallas let Sam Bradford and his ragtag group to march down the field a gotta-have-it 2-minute drill, and they possibly avoided overtime when the officials missed Cedric Thornton’s hands on Bradford’s facemask before his ill-fated 2-point conversion attempt.
Elliott had a respectable 86 rushing yards on 20 carries (not including a 43-yard rush taken away due to a Doug Free holding penalty), but those numbers pale in comparison to the historic season he’s put together. The 86 yards are the fewest he’s had in a game since Week 2 against Washington. And in the first half, he fumbled for the fourth time this season but was fortunate enough to make the recovery upon review.
The Cowboys also had a fumble on third-and-1 near midfield when Lucky Whitehead coughed the ball up at the start of the second quarter. And just before the final 2-minute warning, Prescott and center Travis Frederick couldn’t get the snap down and were bailed out when Elliott scooped the ball up in the backfield to avoid giving it to the Vikings near the red zone.
It wasn’t just the stars of Dallas that let the offense down. The Cowboys went 1-for-9 on third downs against the Vikings, which speaks more to all 11 guys than one individual player. They faced six third downs of 7 or more yards and converted just one of them.
Prescott, Elliott and the Cowboys have been eating plenty all season long. If they want to win in January, there’s no need to start rationing it out like they did Thursday night.