There are plenty of observations to make from the Vikings narrow loss to the Cowboys Sunday afternoon.
Mark Craig of the Star Tribune posted his "five extra points" recap and led his takeaways with a no-call on the strip sack of Kirk Cousins that ultimately resulted in a Dallas touchdown. Craig wrote:
Mike McCarthy won his first coach's challenge as first-year leader of the Dallas Cowboys. It came with 10:57 left in the first quarter of Sunday's 31-28 victory over the Vikings at U.S. Bank Stadium. And, unfortunately for the Vikings, it led to several replays of a double-whammy of not one but two missed calls that went against them. Dallas safety Donovan Wilson did indeed steal the ball from Kirk Cousins on a sack he shared with DeMarcus Lawrence. But what wasn't reviewable was Wilson's helmet-to-helmet hit on Cousins that was missed by referee Bill Vinovich. Asked if he thought it should have been called, Vikings coach Mike Zimmer said, "Yes. And I also thought the [personal foul] on Harrison Smith [later in the game] was clean. There was a lot of those things, but that's not why we lost." Dallas used McCarthy's successful challenge to score a touchdown and take a 6-0 lead.
Craig also pointed to the first of a couple mistakes on the late-game touchdown by Tony Pollard to give Dallas the lead. According to Craig, defensive end Jalyn Holmes "failed to set the edge" on the 42-yard score.
Tight end Dalton Schultz doubled down on Holmes, easily collapsing the edge and giving Pollard all the room he needed for the longest run by a Cowboys player this season. … The Vikings didn't allow a run longer than 9 yards until Ezekiel Elliott broke a 15-yarder two snaps before Pollard's long touchdown. The Vikings gave up a season-high 180 yards rushing on 31 carries (5.8).
View game action images as the Vikings take on the Dallas Cowboys during Week 11.
Craig asked "where was Irv Smith, Jr., at the end?" The tight end caught passes of 11 and 12 yards but was only targeted two times. Craig also pointed out that although Eric Kendricks had a good game against the Cowboys that included an interception, the All-Pro linebacker was accounted for by McCarthy's game plan.
Despite a loss to a team that entered U.S. Bank Stadium 2-7, Craig assured that Dallas "wasn't taken lightly" by Minnesota.
The game had just ended when Kendricks said he heard people saying the Vikings were overconfident. "We came to play," he said. "We didn't overlook them or nothing like that." Believe him. First of all, even the Vikings know they aren't good enough to overlook anyone. Secondly, even with seven losses, the Cowboys reside in the pitiful NFC Least. Philadelphia leads the way at 3-6-1. The other three NFC East teams — Dallas, the New York Giants and Washington — are 3-7. McCarthy is still getting to know his new team during this COVID-19-marred year. Sunday's star player was Donovan Wilson, the safety who forced both fumbles that led to nine points off takeaways. Wilson didn't play a single defensive snap the first three games. When Darian Thompson got benched in Week 4, Wilson stepped in and has been a wrecking ball. He also had nine tackles, the half-sack and a fumble recovery.
Team miscues overshadow 'brilliant performance' by Cousins
Cousins notched his fourth-highest passer rating (140.1) in Purple against the Cowboys, but miscues by the offense, defense and special teams set Minnesota behind the 8-ball.
Matthew Coller of Purple Insider delved into mistakes by the Vikings that overshadowed a "brilliant performance" by Cousins. He wrote:
The Vikings got away with making an unacceptable number of mistakes against the Bears on Monday Night Football with fumbles, interceptions and special teams errors. Against Dallas, the Cowboys made them pay in a 31-28 win that dropped the Vikings to 4-6 on the year.
Following a three-and-out by the Cowboys [to open the game], punt returner K.J. Osborn fumbled a punt. While the Vikings recovered Osborn's fumble, quarterback Kirk Cousins got strip-sacked five plays into the drive and set up Dallas and backup QB Andy Dalton for the game's first touchdown.
Coller said Minnesota "bounced back because of Cousins."
The Vikings QB led a 12-play drive in which he overcame a chop block penalty with two throws to Irv Smith, Jr., and then set up a Dalvin Cook touchdown by converting a key third-down pass to Adam Thielen.
Coller also pointed to back-to-back blunders by Kris Boyd on special teams.
The Vikings faked a punt, and punter Britton Colquitt tossed a perfect pass to wide-open Kris Boyd. However, the play was called back for an illegal motion. When the Vikings did punt the ball on the next play, Boyd committed a rarely seen block in the back on the punting team, setting up [Andy] Dalton and the Cowboys at mid-field.
Minnesota lost two fumbles in the first half and racked up 60 yards in penalties. A couple more errors occurred in the second half, including a 15-yard facemask penalty on Bisi Johnson that was overcome by a 20-yard pass to Justin Jefferson by Cousins.
And in the game's final stretch, a missed tackle allowed Dallas the go-ahead score.
[Head Coach] Mike Zimmer's defense has been performing at a high level in big situations recently. That wasn't exactly true on Sunday. With the Vikings finally up 21-16, cornerback Chris Jones whiffed on a tackle, and running back Tony Pollard cruised to the end zone to give Dallas back the lead 24-21.
Unfortunately for Minnesota, the Vikings offense sputtered on its final two possessions, and the afternoon's mistakes ultimately proved fatal for a team trying to reach .500.
Vikings receive B+ grade despite loss to Cowboys
As mentioned above, the Vikings made defensive stops and big plays on offense, but errors on all three phases hurt Minnesota in a game against Dallas that came down to the wire.
Despite the Vikings 31-28 loss, CBS Sports' John Breech gave Minnesota a B+ grade for its Week 11 performance. He wrote:
This was not a failure by the Vikings at all, but instead they land a high grade in the loss because of their perseverance to make the game closer than it might've been otherwise – even if the second half saw the team continue its struggles from the first.
Breech tipped his hat to Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer.
[Credit] them for halftime adjustments on both sides of the ball that kept the Cowboys from scoring in the third quarter and lit a fire beneath Dalvin Cook and Adam Thielen, with an honorable mention to rookie sensation Justin Jefferson. They simply needed to get either one more stop or one more touchdown, and couldn't.
The Cowboys, meanwhile, were given an A by Breech.
This was almost an A+ simply because it's the Cowboys landing their first win since Week 5, and while that factors into the high grade, it's more so driven by their refusal to lay down and die when the Vikings kept punching them in the face after halftime. Kudos to [Head Coach] Mike McCarthy and staff for having his team ready after a bye week – the defense getting two takeaways in the first half and the offense turning them into nine points. And when things looked bleak and momentum was fully in the Vikings favor in the fourth quarter, the Cowboys found a way to get stops when they needed them most, and the offense put the ball into the end zone to help seal the deal in one of the more entertaining back-and-forth games of 2020.