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5 Takeaways from the Loss to Dallas

The Vikings fell just short in another heart-stopping loss, losing 17-15 to the Dallas Cowboys on Thursday night at U.S. Bank Stadium when their last-second two-point conversion attempt was thwarted by the Dallas defense. The Vikings drop to 6-6 on the season and have four games remaining in the regular season. Here are five takeaways from Thursday's loss.

1.  Defense was up to the task

Head coach Mike Zimmer, architect of the Vikings vaunted defense, was unable to coach on Thursday night due to undergoing emergency eye surgery on Wednesday night. His players rose to the occasion, though, slowing down a high-octane Cowboys offense. Dallas was just one of nine (11%) on 3rd downs, they recorded multiple 1st downs on only three of 13 possessions and they committed two turnovers. Each of the Cowboys top two offensive weapons – RB Ezekiel Elliott and QB Dak Prescott – were held far below their season averages. Elliott, the NFL's leading rusher, had just 86 yards on 20 carries and Prescott completed just 12 of 18 passes for 139 yards. Elliott's rushing total was his lowest output since Week 2 and Prescott's passing numbers were his lowest of the season. Unfortunately, each also accounted for a touchdown and that ultimately was the difference in the game because the Vikings scored just one touchdown on the night.

2. Vikings defensive ends caused havoc

Slowing down a prolific offense the way the Vikings defense did requires sound play from everyone on the field. It was the Vikings defensive ends, though, who registered the splashiest plays. Second-year standout Danielle Hunter had 2.0 sacks, increasing his total to a team-best 9.5 on the season. Brian Robison was all over the field, defending both the run and the pass well; he had a sack that resulted in a Prescott fumble. And Everson Griffen was productive, leading the team with eight tackles and recovering the Prescott fumble that was caused by Robison. Griffen was credited with several "hustle" plays by Vikings radio analyst Pete Bercich during the game call, demonstrating the kind of on-field leadership that has become commonplace for him. Vikings defensive ends came into Week 13 second in the NFL with 18.5 sacks and they added another 3.0 to that total on Thursday night.

3. Vikings couldn't capitalize in the red zone

The Vikings entered the red zone three times on Thursday night but came away with a touchdown on only one occasion. The biggest missed opportunity in this regard came after the defense took the ball away from Dallas' offense on Robison's strip-sack that was recovered by Griffen at the Dallas 19 late in the 3rd quarter. The Vikings offense went three-and-out and Kai Forbath came on to salvage the scoring drive with a 33-yard field goal that gave the Vikings a 9-7 lead. Dallas, conversely, was two for two in red zone touchdown percentage, punching the ball in from the 1 following Bryant's 56-yard reception midway through the second quarter and when Dez Bryant found the front left pylon one player after Adam Thielen's fumbled punt return early in the 4th quarter.

4. Consistency is next step for Vikings offense

The Vikings offense flashed improvement during Thursday night's game in a number of key areas. QB Sam Bradford was sacked two times and faced pressure on the game's biggest play (the two-point conversion), but there were several plays in which Bradford had plenty of time in the pocket to deliver passes; he was 32 of 45 for 247 yards and one touchdown on the night. The Vikings also authored a per-carry average of 4.6 yards, demonstrating significant improvement in that metric. Don't be surprised if a theme coming from players and offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur next week is consistency.

5. Gut check time as team enters final stretch

The math checks out – the Vikings are still squarely in the NFC playoff hunt, even at 6-6 after losing six of the last seven games. A perfect final quarter of the season would give the Vikings 10 wins and a good chance at making the playoffs. But being 6-6 after starting 5-0 is not easy to accept. That means it's gut check time for the Vikings as they enter the final quarter of the season, particularly with their head coach on the mend. This team has shown toughness and a will to fight when faced with adversity in the past, and the next month may be as tough a challenge as this team has faced since Zimmer took over in 2014. Although the result of the game may not indicate it, the effort the Vikings gave on Thursday night would suggest they're up for the challenge.

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