MINNEAPOLIS — The Vikings made plays but left U.S. Bank Stadium lamenting missed opportunities against the Cowboys on Sunday.
A 31-28 loss with breakdowns at key moments in all three phases prevented Minnesota's attempt to dig out from a 1-5 start to the season with a fourth consecutive victory.
Instead, Minnesota fell to 4-6 with six games left to play after losing for the fourth time in five games at a mostly empty (or completely fan-free in Sunday's case) venue that previously provided one of the top home-field advantages in football.
Minnesota has allowed an average of 31 points in home games this season, and at least that number in each of its four losses.
The lone exception was in Week 9 against Detroit when the Vikings limited the Lions to 20 points.
Pre-game question: Could the Vikings continue their post-bye streak of wins marked by explosive offense, solid defense and making fewer mistakes?
View game action images as the Vikings take on the Dallas Cowboys during Week 11.
Although there were mistakes early — a fumble on a punt return by K.J. Osborn the first time a Viking touched the ball (it was recovered by fellow rookie Josh Metellus) and a fumble during a strip sack to end Minnesota's first possession — the ends of the first and second halves loomed largest.
The Vikings forced an incompletion on a fourth-and-1 play to get the ball back at their own 38-yard line with 1:51 left in the first half.
Kirk Cousins connected with Dalvin Cook for a gain of 26 on the first play, and the running back followed with a 2-yard run.
Minnesota turned to the air on second-and-8 with Cousins firing to Cook for a gain of 7, but Donovan Wilson screamed in to wallop Cook and forced a fumble that was recovered by DeMarcus Lawrence.
No one tapped Lawrence down before linebacker Jaylon Smith came in and ripped the ball away from him. Smith ran for 21 yards to the Minnesota 48-yard line before Cousins and Chad Beebe finally got him down.
Dallas started in Minnesota territory for the second time of the evening (the first resulted in a 30-yard touchdown drive) with 49 seconds left in the first half.
Completions from Andy Dalton of 5, 10 and 32 yards moved the ball to the 1 with 0:08 left where Harrison Smith saved a touchdown.
Dallas, which was out of timeouts, attempted one more pass before kicking a 19-yard field goal for a 16-7 halftime edge that was built with nine points off turnovers.
The Vikings rallied in the second half with impressive touchdown drives on their first three possessions but again faltered late.
Minnesota went four-and-punt on a possession that began with a 28-24 lead with 5:54 left to play.
Dallas rookie CeeDee Lamb sprung free for a 20-yard return to put the ball at the Cowboys 39-yard line with 4:00 left in the game.
The Cowboys followed with gains of 10 on a pass to Michael Gallup and 18 on a run by Ezekiel Elliott to quickly advance to the Minnesota 33.
Dallas overcame a third-and-12 with a 6-yard run by Tony Pollard that was followed by a 10-yard pass from Dalton to Cooper on fourth-and-6 just before the two-minute warning.
The Cowboys scored five plays later when tight end Dalton Schultz was unguarded on a play that built off misdirection with Lamb to the right. Schultz simply crossed behind the Vikings defensive line to the left side of the field.
The Vikings still had 1:37 of clock and needed just a field goal to force overtime, but Minnesota was only able to gain 4 yards with a pass from Cousins to Cook on first down.
Rookie Justin Jefferson, who caught three passes for 86 yards (including a 39-yard touchdown), suffered a drop on second-and-6. Cousins then targeted Adam Thielen on his final two attempts.
Solid coverage denied the first, and the quarterback had to make a desperation heave while under pressure that was off the mark. Thielen, who lost a shoe on the final play, was unable to track it down.
"I don't think we played well enough to win today. We had our opportunities, made too many mistakes. Had three fumbles in the first half, lost two. We had too many penalties. We weren't good in the red zone on defense today. Obviously we can't get the fourth down play [on defense] to win the game. We have to get back to work."
— Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer
"Yeah, just a heartbreaking loss today. It was hard-fought, it was back and forth. It's one of those games, and so many NFL games are like this, but one or two plays makes the difference in the end. You know that going in and you feel that during the game, but we just didn't come out on the right side of enough of those plays to win the game, obviously. Still a lot of football to be played, but we have to bounce back quickly and get back on track. There are positives to point to, but ultimately when you don't win, you leave the stadium feeling sick to your stomach. I'll take any questions you have."
"Just individual plays. We had one where they kind of loaded us up in zone, and I threw incomplete. On third down, I worked Adam on that out route and it was tight coverage and didn't hit it. Then in the 2-minute [drill], it was the same thing. Got the completion on first down, but third down didn't get the out route to Adam there either. Then fourth down, played off schedule and didn't get that either. It was kind of a couple different plays."
"Turnovers are never good. For sure. We had one, I think, on defense, but turnovers are the number one cause of winning and losing games, and we definitely don't want to do that, but in the same breath I feel like we came to play, and we didn't overlook them or nothing like that, which I heard people saying. We didn't do that. We definitely took them serious, and they have good players all over the field. It's the NFL, man, you've got to come to play every week, you've got to be assignment sound, and you see one little mistake, and we see two runs busted, going longer, when we were continuing to run the whole game. We've got to be perfect every single time we go out there or close to it."
— Vikings linebacker Eric Kendricks, who recorded his second interception in three weeks