Looking to put a stranglehold on the NFC East, the Dallas Cowboys enter their Sunday Night Football matchup against the Minnesota Vikings with something to prove. They have been dynamite against the division this season, but are just 1-3 against the rest of their schedule to this point.
The good news is, Dallas will be at full strength, with Amari Cooper and Leighton Vander Esch both set to take the field after limited weeks in practice.
On the other side of the field, Kirk Cousins is 0-7-1 in his last eight games against teams with winning records and has been inconsistent at best with his play this season.
With one of his top targets in wideout Adam Thielen out with a hamstring injury, it will be up to Stefon Diggs, Kyle Rudolf, and what's left of the Minnesota pass catchers to help Cousins get over that hump.
Luckily for Cousins, he has one of the top running games in the NFL to rely on, with Dalvin Cook and Alexander Mattison. The bad news is, Dallas has one of the top rush defenses in the NFL and is coming off of one of its best performances of the year, in which it held Saquon Barkley to just 28 yards on 14 carries.
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The Vikings won the toss and elected to kick, giving the Cowboys the football first. Dallas moved the ball way, gaining two first downs using a balanced mixture of the run and the pass, but were ultimately stopped at the Minnesota 40. Dallas elected to try for a 57-yard field goal, but missed wide left, starting the Vikings in solid position for their opening drive.
The Vikings wasted no time on their first drive, marching down the field behind Dalvin Cook and their strong running game. The drive was capped off by an impressive one-handed catch in the endzone by Kyle Rudolph, putting the Vikings up 7-0 in the first quarter.
The Cowboys' next drive was not much better, with the team driving the ball to midfield, before stalling yet again. Following the punt, the Vikings took over from their own 10-yard line.
On their following possession, the Vikings quickly took advantage of an unprepared Dallas defense, moving the ball into scoring position behind the arm of Kirk Cousins. On third and goal from the one-yard-line, Cousins hit Kyle Rudolph yet again for the pair's second touchdown of the game, putting the Vikings up 14-0 with 32 seconds to go in the first quarter.
Once again, despite a big play from Michael Gallup, the Cowboys stalled at midfield on their following possession. Chris Jones punted away for the second time in the game, with the Vikings taking over at their own five-yard-line.
The Cowboys defense finally stepped up on the following Vikings drive, forcing a punt after sacking Kirk Cousins on third down. A sub-par punt from Minnesota gave Dallas solid starting field position near midfield to start their next chance.
The Dallas offense finally came to life after the Vikings punt, thanks to a massive third down and long completion to Amari Cooper that put them inside the Minnesota 30. A couple of plays later, Michael Gallup got open across the middle, where Dak Prescott would find him for the first Cowboys score of the game, making it 14-7 Dallas with 8:08 to go in the half.
Picking up where they left off, the Cowboys defense forced another quick Minnesota punt thanks in large part to their pass rush. Dallas took over for their next possession at their own 17.
With momentum fully behind them, Dak Prescott led a drive through the air to put the team back within striking distance. One play after the two-minute warning, the Cowboys evened things up with the Vikings on a deep pass to Randle Cobb, making the score 14-14 with 1:54 to go in the half.
In the two-minute drill, Cousins led another methodical drive to put the Vikings in scoring range. Dan Bailey closed the half out with a short field goal, making it 17-14 Vikings going into the half.
The Vikings started the second half with the ball and sparked by a big run from Dalvin Cook, were quickly in Cowboys territory. After getting inside the Cowboys 10, however, they were unable to capitalize with a touchdown and were forced to settle for another Dan Bailey field goal, making the score 20-14 Vikings.
In response to a solid drive from the Vikings, Dak Prescott led a 7-play, 75-yard drive with his arm, culminating in a touchdown connection with Amari Cooper to give the Cowboys their first lead of the game at 21-20.
On their next possession, the Vikings went back to the combined efforts of Dalvin Cook and Alexander Mattison in the running game, and it was very successful. Cook finished things off on a toss play on fourth and goal for the touchdown, giving the Vikings the lead. Minnesota decided to go for two to make it a 7-point game, and they were successful when Cousins in Kyle Rudolph in the corner of the end zone, making it 28-21 Vikings at the end of the third quarter.
To open the fourth quarter, the Cowboys used the arm and escapability of Dak Prescott to move the ball into Vikings territory yet again. When it seemed as though the drive had been ended with a sack of Prescott, a defensive holding call kept the drive alive. The Cowboys would be unable to capitalize, however, and were forced to settle for a Brett Maher field goal, making the score 28-24 Vikings, with 10 minutes to go in regulation.
Minnesota took over the football looking to ice the game and was able to take almost five and a half minutes off of the clock. Dallas was able to get the stop, however, giving Dak Prescott one more shot at pulling out the win.
Behind the arm of Prescott, the Cowboys flew down the field on an overmatched Vikings secondary, getting inside the Minnesota red zone by the two-minute warning. After some questionable playcalling, in which the Cowboys insisted on Zeke Elliott getting the football, the Cowboys turned the ball over on downs, sealing their defeat.
Dallas did get the ball back for one final desperation attempt, but it was too little too late, and the Vikings escaped with a 28-24 win over Dallas.