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Monday Morning Mailbag: Fans' Disappointment in Dallas Game; O'Connell on O-Line Injuries

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The Vikings never really had it on Sunday.

The offense fumbled on its third snap, losing the ball during a strip sack by Micah Parsons.

The defense limited the damage to a field goal, and the offense tied the game on the following possession, but Minnesota was disappointed by not reaching the end zone after opting to receive the opening kickoff.

Dallas answered with a 75-yard drive that lasted more than five minutes, longer than Minnesota's time of possession in the second quarter (3:51) or fourth quarter (5:07).

Minnesota's final eight possessions were seven punts and the end of the game.

Dallas, meanwhile, scored on its first seven possessions, putting up the final 37 points of the game in improving to 4-0 all-time at U.S. Bank Stadium.

The Vikings have had some struggles in recent years in Sunday games before Thursday games.

2015: Lost 38-7 at home to Seattle before losing 23-20 at Arizona

2018: Lost 27-6 at home to Buffalo before losing 38-31 to the Rams in Los Angeles

2021: Lost 29-27 at Detroit before defeating Pittsburgh 36-28

Up next is a 6-4 New England team still coached by Bill Belichick, who is great at exploiting opponents' weaknesses.

The Vikings must do a rush job of cleaning up mistakes, recovering physically and mentally preparing for the Patriots.

Before we get to the questions, I'd again like to ask you to cast a vote for assistant special teams coach Ben Kotwica. The Army graduate who served for eight years flying Apache helicopters is Minnesota's nominee for the 2022 Salute to Service Award. Voting runs through the end of the month.

On to the questions (as a reminder, we'll update with more Monday).

Well, this is the question everybody asks every week, 'What team are we?' Despite what anyone says, we don't know who we are yet. First-year offense with a load of talent. A defense that really can't stop anyone unless we get lucky. I expected this. And defenses win championships, so we've got a long ways to go. But keep plugging along.

— Toby in Alaska

Viking played as expected. They never fail to disappoint. I look for another disappointment on Thursday from this great pretender of a football team.

Will suffer forever.

— Mr. Bill from North Carolina (Viking fan since 1965)

Really is this our best at home? I can't believe we let other teams run us out of town. Where is our pride to protect our hometown? How can you still walk out of your door and call us a top team in the playoffs? I can't even walk out with my Vikings hat with a blowout game at home. Who are we kidding? No one. A busted team can't even protect a homefield. Wow, we are the worst team to make to a playoff run. Look, like we are not even trying our best at protecting our home at all.

— Ger Vang

Pee-Yew! What a stinker! Thank God CBS switched the game to the Bengals/Steelers. Was about to shut it off anyway. We were out-played, out-muscled, out-coached. You could see from the start that they were playing with more intensity than us. This needs to be wake-up call going forward! This offense needs to be more consistent. One good drive and then struggles? The defense is not great but could probably be better if not on the field all the time. STOP giving up big plays on third downs. Third-and-14 should not be that easy. Possible letdown from last week? Who knows. Let's get it fixed or we will see it the rest of the season. SKOL!!

— Ray in Yankton, South Dakota

Pretty sad when the TV network switches games because you're playing so terrible. Yup, CBS switched to the Steelers - Cincinnati game because my team plays so badly. After the Bills game, I was actually starting to believe my Vikings were real contenders. Shoulda known better. Didn't really expect we would get to the playoffs with one loss, but a 30-point beatdown? C'mon. Pathetic. I hope everyone within the organization is ashamed. Not sure how you come back from that. A loss, sure. A beatdown? Wow.

— Brian

House full of friends, mostly Cowboys fans, ready for a great game between two NFC contenders …… and we lay an egg. How can we continually come out flat after big wins? Why do we keep proving all the pundits correct? Why can't we earn respect? Look no further than Sunday's effort. I have faith in K.O. (Head Coach Kevin O'Connell). We can't keep repeating our history if we're going to win a Super Bowl.

— J.B. Brunet

It's August. You're a Vikings fan. And I tell you that before Thanksgiving the Vikings will be 8-2 with a four-game division lead. And the Vikings have swept the division at home.

You're telling me you don't jump for joy?

I have a LOT more I could say and at the moment; I have plenty of questions. But for now, I'll jump for joy.

For now.

— Jeff in Sacramento

As you can imagine, the inbox hasn't seen this level of disappointment since Week 2 was changing to Week 3.

It was fair then and is legitimate after Sunday's showing.

I decided to combine several sentiments before making an initial response.

I kind of reminded myself before kickoff just how much more season there is to play. The Vikings will have seven more opportunities to define who they are.

As of now, they're an 8-2 team with a four-game lead in the division over Detroit (4-6).

After delivering in one hyped game, the Vikings stumbled in what started as a nearly nationally televised game on CBS.

An egg like that one can be shouldered by all three phases not matching and none exceeding the Cowboys on offense, defense or special teams.

Now they'll have another opportunity in front of a nationwide audience (probably minus some people from my alma mater, Mississippi State, who are hoping for an upset in the Egg Bowl) to reset the narrative.

It's one thing to be in good shape for the division; it's another to try to claim a No. 1 seed in the conference.

The Vikings last Monday had received a present when Washington handed Philadelphia its first loss of the season. The Eagles (9-1) almost dropped another contest before Minnesota kicked off Sunday, but the Colts failed to protect a 16-10 lead at home in the final minutes.

Therefore, Minnesota will need extra help and to take care of its own business for any shot at the No. 1. There's a huge difference in the No. 1 vs. No. 2 see know that the playoff field has expanded to a seventh team in each conference.

The Vikings were the last undefeated team at home this season and are now 4-1 with home games against the Patriots, Jets (Dec. 4), Colts (Dec. 17/18) and Giants (Dec. 24) remaining and only division games remaining in the road slate. I don't know what it is about the Cowboys, but they are 4-0 at U.S. Bank Stadium and improved to 13-7 all-time when visiting Minnesota, including Drew Pearson's push-off.

Back in Week 2-3, I emphasized that the loss at Philadelphia only counted as one, even though it had a combo of challenges (Vikings first road game under first-year head coach, tough environment at any time, Monday Night Football on the road, a team's home opener, and it turns out the Eagles are pretty good, too).

The Cowboys were able to play the entirety of that game on their terms (completely open playbook on offense, rushing the passer on defense, neutralizing Minnesota's threats in the return game, and launching a couple of long field goals to boot). They won, for sure, but the slant mounted with Dallas winning every marginal play.

A week after nearly everything needed to go right for Minnesota's 17-point comeback, nothing did Sunday against Dallas.

O'Connell has emphasized the middle eight of games (final four minutes of a first half and first four of a second), and Sunday's game illustrates why.

Dallas scored a 30-yard touchdown on a pass from Dak Prescott near the line of scrimmage to Tony Pollard, pretty much a safety valve, but Pollard had enough juice to take advantage of open space for a touchdown to make it 20-3 with 1:43 left before halftime.

Minnesota tried to respond and made it to the Dallas 49 with 1:05 remaining when a false start on Blake Brandel and a sack of Cousins created a second-and-23 and third-and-23. Two incompletions on those downs allowed Dallas to get the ball back with 31 seconds, and the Cowboys drove 44 yards for a 60-yard field goal by Brett Maher for a 23-3 lead.

The Vikings opened the second half by putting the Cowboys in a third-and-14. Prescott found Pollard just beyond Jordan Hicks for a 68-yard touchdown that absolutely can't happen on third-and-14.

That's minus-17 points in the middle eight.

View game action photos of the Vikings vs. Cowboys in the Week 11 matchup at U.S. Bank Stadium.

I realize that [Christian] Darrisaw was injured early and we had a backup left guard, but an experienced quarterback should be able to compensate. What we need is a scrambling quarterback, with a quick read and quick release, such as Kyle Sloter — rather than blame our offensive line week after week for poor pass performance.

— Jerry Lafreniere in Side Lake, Minnesota

Losing Darrisaw during a game for the second week in a row was tough. The Cowboys probably did some study on Brandel from last week's performance at Buffalo in which he filled the void nicely. Left guard Ezra Cleveland also left the game and was replaced by Austin Schlottmann, who had filled in at center in Washington when Garrett Bradbury was briefly sidelined.

Here's a sequence from O'Connell's postgame press conference:

Asked about Cleveland, O'Connell said, "He ended up coming out there, and we decided he should be OK."

As for Darrisaw, the Vikings essentially have ruled him out for Thursday and will continue to be highly cautious and follow all protocols.

"My concern is just about C.D. and making sure that — he'll be in the protocol like he was last week. He checked all those boxes going into [Sunday], and ultimately we'll make sure. This is one of our best players with a long-term future here, and we're going to make sure that C.D. is absolutely — like we did this week, but we'll make sure he's absolutely ready to roll when that time comes."

As for how the Vikings might try to fill the void, O'Connell said he'd talk to Offensive Coordinator Wes Phillips and offensive line coach Chris Kuper.

"We'll just take a look at our game plan, how we see ourselves trying to play this game on Thursday," O'Connell said. "Knowing it's a tight turnaround, there's not going to be a lot of time for full-speed reps or development. We've just got to go out and give our guys the best possible plan. They've got to be ready to execute against a really good football team that's going to come in here and play good football. We cannot — the penalties, obviously we had the one turnover, but we've got to force more turnovers. We've got to force more plays defensively to go our way, and then offensively we've got to find a way to make things happen and be that momentum grabbing side when we need to in some of these games. "

Lastly on a "Side" note, I appreciate the trips I've been able to take to Side Lake and McCarthy Beach State Park with neighbors. That area is a great neck of the woods right before training camp starts.

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I was thinking about the recent Packers-Dallas game in comparison to the Vikings-Dallas game. Do you think there are any issues that might need to be addressed before [Thursday] so that we can keep our Thanksgiving Dinner down?

— Gene Beussman

My prior posts were ignored as my views on the Vikings defense were no doubt contrary to the euphoria supplied by others.

The defense has been exposed every week, and today was no different. Teams move the ball at will and it is a failure of the scheme and the defensive coordinator. There has been more smoke and mirrors than dominance in the defensive performance this season.

The Packers gave us the blueprint for how to defeat the Cowboys, by running the ball and not letting their defense utilize their strength and rush the passer. But why would we pound the ball when we can put Cousins into a meat grinder behind an O-line that is not truly up to the task.

If we are ever going to achieve the ultimate goal, then unleash the dogs of war and start by dominating our opponents on both sides of the ball. Otherwise, our postseason will be another one and done.

Skol Vikes

— John S.

Green Bay rushed 39 times for 207 yards against Dallas last week, but the Packers also threw for three touchdowns and rallied from 28-14 down at the start of the fourth quarter. Aaron Rodgers finished with a passer rating of 146.7, so Green Bay was rewarded for its commitment to the run game and its effectiveness in both aspects.

The Vikings ran 54 offensive plays, with just 17 rush attempts for 73 yards. I honestly thought Minnesota would be able to build on recent development in the run game and take advantage of a Dallas team that loves to rush the passer and has struggled against the run. The flow of the game probably hindered that a bit.

John, I'm not trying to ignore you or anyone, for that matter. We try to publish as many fans' thoughts as we can get to. I appreciate the opportunity to do the Mailbag, but it's one part of my workload.

I do think I've included multiple criticisms of the Vikings defense by others along the way this year, usually admitting the allowance of yards but pointing out the points allowed.

In Sunday's game, the Vikings allowed yards (458 — woof!) and huge plays (four of 27 or more, including two touchdowns and two more that set up a TD and a field goal. That's 24 points deeply connected to four plays.

View pregame photos of Vikings players ahead of their Week 11 matchup vs. the Cowboys at U.S. Bank Stadium.

Why did you not mix up your offense plays? I get we've got great downfield players at receiver, but no screen plays or reverses to slow down the pass rush? Our D-line [was bad] against the run, and 23 needs so much help on coverage.

— Courtney Celt

I think the biggest thing is the limited number of plays (54 total) and never finding any sort of rhythm.

The turnover on the opening drive absolutely can't happen. Spotting a team points so easily out of the gate is not winning football.

It seemed like every run by Dallas got an extra couple of yards after contact. There's some credit to Dallas' o-line and running backs, and probably opportunities for Minnesota's defensive line to do better in the future. The group was without Dalvin Tomlinson for a third consecutive game.

As for 23, that's in reference to rookie Andrew Booth, Jr., who made his first start in place of fellow rookie Akayleb Evans. Booth replaced Evans (concussion) in Buffalo and has been banged up for much of his rookie season. Cameron Dantzler, Sr., is on Injured Reserve for the time being. We'll find out more this week regarding Evans' status.

The questions and answers below were added after the Nov. 21 Mailbag was initially published.

When will our defensive coordinator and our new head coach realize that the "bend don't break" philosophy does not work in the NFL??!!

Soft coverage on wide receivers is a recipe for disaster!! Our DBs need to stay in press coverage! Our linebackers were seemingly out of position all afternoon!! And why don't we blitz more??

I've been a diehard fan since I was 6 years old!! I'll be 48 on Wednesday, and I've reached the point where I expect to be let down by the Vikings, regardless of who the coach is. The culture here never changes...

But hey, maybe one day!

— Trevor Wade

Happy birthday, Trevor. I bet you had a blast in 2017 when Thanksgiving fell on the 23rd and the Vikings topped the Lions. Hope you have additional reasons to celebrate over the weekend.

As for the bend but don't break approach, the Vikings have succeeded in making teams run "one more play" often this season, including in Week 10 at Buffalo. The problem Sunday against Dallas was too much bending AND BREAKING.

The Vikings have motored through cornerbacks opposite Patrick Peterson in recent weeks since Cameron Dantzler, Sr., suffered his ankle injury at Washington. Akayleb Evans filled the void for the remainder of that game and was playing well at Buffalo until he suffered a concussion. The Vikings then turned to Booth. Did his first start prompt the Vikings to play even farther off?

Prescott was quite comfortable, and I've always thought some of the pundits' criticisms have not credited him for the player he is.

There's probably quite a few plays that the offense or defense would like to redo from Sunday. One that was tough for me to see again was Prescott's 11-yard run on third-and-6. The Cowboys were only leading 10-3 at the time and went on to get a field goal out of the drive.

Safeties Harrison Smith and Camryn Bynum were 13 or more yards off the line of scrimmage when the ball was snapped. Prescott and Pollard executed a great fake, drawing Kendricks toward Pollard and leaving Prescott with plenty of room to roam.

To Jay's point, I think it's important to avoid so many third-and-shorts, especially against Dallas, so that more pressure can be applied.

Vikings fan for 56 years ... SKOL. I know it's turkey time but why, why aren't we using C.J. Ham? He did get a TD against the Bills, but why haven't we seen him a lot more receiving, running or blocking for Dalvin. I'm stumped!

— Mark Gustovich in Girard, Ohio

Dallas' defense is not very good against the run, and Dalvin was running the ball well in the first.

Why not continue with that? That should've been the game plan from the start. I understand play-action and we have J Jets (Jefferson). But with the O-Line down like that, Dalvin should've been the game plan.

— Darren

The Los Angeles Rams iteration of this offense didn't have a fullback, so it's kind of been an ongoing process.

Minnesota wanted to establish the run based on its first two plays but opted to try with 12 personnel (one back and tight ends T.J. Hockenson and Johnny Mundt). The first play was a gain of 4, but there were some yards left on the table if that had been blocked just a little better. The second run was a gain of 3, setting up the ill-fated third-and-3 turnover.

Once the game went full-on carnage, there's a shift toward trying to throw the ball. Ham played just two snaps on offense. He did play 19 snaps on special teams.

We'll see how Ham's usage continues to develop.

I'd imagine there's probably plenty of moments where the Vikings wish they would have leaned more heavily on the run game, especially considering the matchup. Cook's 81-yard TD at Buffalo sparked Minnesota and provided a launch point for the 17-point comeback. I really think the 68-yard TD allowed on third-and-14 to make it 30-3 took the run game off the table.

Not disappointed that the Vikings lost to a lesser team. Minnesota Vikings hired the right GM and head coach. They will take this team to the Super Bowl and win — you just watch and see. The loss to Dallas is a fluke.

— Bob

I think what Kwesi Adofo-Mensah and O'Connell have been able to do so far in their first season together is worthy of credit, and they've shown reasons for people to be optimistic. There's a reason no team has gone undefeated since the 1972 Dolphins (the NFL has for decades tried to emphasize parity, which makes the scoreboard from Sunday so astounding).

I think those teams could play 100 more times, and it's hard to imagine things working out so well for Dallas and so poorly for Minnesota in every aspect for how the Cowboys wanted to play the game. Not saying Minnesota wins 51 or more out of 100, but I don't think it could get much uglier.

I have been a loyal Vikings fan since I was a kid — and I am from California. I was a fan even before I went to high school with QB Bob Berry. I am now 80, and the shirt I have that says just one before I die is not nearly as funny as it was 20 years ago. Come on guys, make me happy. I am running out of time. LOL.

— Maryben Stover in San Jose, California

It's apparent to me that the Vikings team that reeled off seven straight wins was snowbound in Buffalo. Don't have a clue as to who those imposters were on Sunday. Being a fan since '68 and suffering through 4 Super Bowl losses reminds me of facing yet another letdown of a (remaining) season. Let's hope I'm wrong about that.

— Rob from the Cape in SWFL (Southwest Florida). SKOL!!!

Appreciate the longtime support from far away, whether on the Gulf Coast or near the Pacific Ocean. That's a cool personal connection, too, to Berry, who played six seasons for Minnesota (1965-67 and 1973-75) and five others for Atlanta.

I've seen a few of those shirts, and I know there are so many of our fans from the era that came so close to winning the Super Bowl who have continued to be so ardent. If/when it ever happens, it will belong to all of you, as well as those who are dearly departed.

This defeat leaves many things to think about and improve both offensively and defensively. It is deadly for the Vikings offensive line when the opposing team blitzes the QB, knowing that Kirk C. does not have good evasive mobility. The Vikings attack became very predictable. Defending against blitzes requires running the ball and executing quick passes, like Tom Brady in New England. The most important thing is to raise the spirits and morale of the players, work on the psychological part.

My best wishes to the team.

— Juan Carlos López, México City

I love my Vikings, but one question I have is why wasn't our offense protecting Kirk Cousins from getting sacked 7 times. That game was so emotional for me, and we lost in a big way. What is the team going to do to improve, to stay strong and move forward.

— Gina Wooddall in Boise, Idaho

How was the game plan changed throughout the game? How much help did you try to keep back to help protect the QB?

Why not transition to a short game? Get rid of the ball quicker? You played many screens early in the season, why so few against Dallas?

— Todd in Nebraska

I see the need to use the fullback to pass block anyone that gets through. Dalvin can be a safety checkdown receiver, but Kirk needs more time. Kirk can't feel the blindside pressure and waits too long to move or throw. Give Kirk time, and he's pretty good. C.J. or a tight end to block is the key. Let's use them, Vikes, and make us fans proud.

On defense, we notice the middle linebacker Eric Kendricks is getting way too much area to cover in the middle, and he can't stunt much either. Need to pull up a safety or linebacker to help out more. Can't be giving up 7-8 yards on first or second down all the time. Let's go, Vikings, and let's get this figured out.

— Todd M. from South Dakota (bleeding purple since 1970)

Appreciate the support from Mexico (and looking forward to catching some of the 49ers-Cardinals game on the TV tonight) — to Idaho, as well as closer to Minnesota.

No matter where you were, there's a consensus that the Vikings did not protect well enough.

I think one of the key problems for Minnesota was that six of the seven sacks recorded by Dallas were with a four-man rush.

"Getting home" by rushing four players was a big boon for the Purple People Eaters and allows more resources to stay devoted to coverage. A pass rush like the Cowboys have requires effective blocking, keeping the score tight so the whole playbook remains available and playing faster, with receivers winning their routes early and the quarterback getting rid of the ball quicker.

To Todd's point, it didn't seem like any answers were available. I do think Washington did extremely well in covering Minnesota's screens, but those can be helpful in slowing down a pass rush.

The elevated view of the press box provided a quality sightline of the key Parsons sack fumble. It was almost playing in theatrical slow motion ("Nooooooooooooooooo!"), even though it wound up being over pretty fast.

Minnesota's two losses are against a Philadelphia team that blitzed heavily and a Dallas squad that repeatedly won matchups (and didn't have to worry about defending the run). There are a few ways for the Vikings to solve those issues, and it will be important to do so.

There were just too many times that Dallas got extra yards after contact. Pollard finished with 80 yards on the ground, which was 32 more than expected, according to Next Gen Stats.

Why doesn't O'Connell use C.J. Ham in at least 60 percent of the offensive snaps? I feel it's better for the play action as it truly shows a defense the possibility of a run more than shotgun formations.

— Gregory Sims in Queens, New York (49 years a SKOL fan)

Ham is one that we'll always root for personally and professionally. It's been great to see his career start as an undrafted player and advance to the Pro Bowl, but 60-percent of offensive snaps in today's NFL might be a bit high. There's a lot of wiggle room, however, between the two he played Sunday, and what would have been 30-ish (based on 60 percent).

Deception and the chess game are important parts for sure, though.

I just want to know why we did not play at all. We looked flat from the start. It is one thing to lose a game, but WOW, I thought because it was at home and being underdogs we would have shown up!!! I have lived and died for this team since 1971, and it never fails, big games we always choke!!!! I hope they are ready for Thursday. This is a true test of their contending or pretending. Only time will tell. SKOL until I die.

— Sean from Virginia

That was perhaps the worst showing by this team since being blown out by the Giants in the playoffs in 1999.

How can you show your faces after that disgusting performance? Did you even prepare for this game? Did you think after beating the Bills, you would skate through this one?

As a lifelong fan, I have come to expect collapses. This season will be no less. 8-2 does NOT reflect this team. SO, SO disappointed!!!!

— Dave Marino in Webster, New York

I think it is time to be honest. Vikings always choke on national TV. Then the coaches say we have to coach better and the players say we have to play better. Vikings have one of the best fanbases in the NFL. We as fans need to somehow let this organization know to get its act together. Any suggestions?

— Jay from South Florida

I can understand the disappointment of living out of market and not being able to see your favorite team every week, then being excited and wanting a great showing when the game will be on in your market. I'm always excited when Vikings games are going to air in Tennessee because family and friends will somehow seem just a bit closer by knowing they're able to watch the game I have the privilege of covering.

The fanbase deserves the big one, and I think players and coaches have an understanding of the support that's out there and wanting to be at their best for themselves and the fans. It just didn't work out that way, but here's another national broadcast to do better and build on the 8-2 record.

View photos of the Vikings 53-man roster as of Jan. 14, 2023.

To Sean's point, everything seemed flat. I don't know exactly why, but colleague Lindsey Young and I each felt the vibe was just a little off before the game even kicked off.

Dallas played hungrier and better in multiple aspects.

I wasn't here for "41-donut," which Dave is referencing, but I was for the Week 2 loss. O'Connell and the team responded well with seven consecutive wins. I think they'll have the demeanor to do so, but this week will involve being able to execute on short rest without the benefit of full-speed practices.

How are you addressing the defense? I am not concerned about the offense, but our defense ranks 30th in total yards allowed per game. I am tired of people saying it's the offense's problem when our defense cannot hold other teams.

— Tyler Luschen

I think there was plenty of blame to be shared, but I also don't think this is a locker room that's going to start pointing fingers. It's the first year of a new defense and offense, and the defense from the past couple of years was pretty low in terms of yards allowed. Limiting points allowed (and forcing turnovers) is probably the way to maximize this defense for a team a few years removed from that vaunted 2017 unit.

There's somewhat of a circular argument that the defense should get off the field on third down, but when the offense can't extend a drive, then the defense wears down. It was a lack of complementary football, but it's not the worst thing for everyone to have a hand in that loss.

I see everyone freaking out. Ooooo, 40-3. Big deal. We knew we wouldn't go undefeated the rest of the way. So, we had a bad game. Just happens we had it against a really good and hungry team. Hence the blowout. Dallas was trying to prove a point. We already have. So, we come back on Thursday and get a W. My concern is staying healthy. That's gonna be our biggest enemy.

— "Big Bad Bud"

Going 16-1 would have been incredibly difficult, and 15-2 also is quite uncommon. As unsightly as Sunday was, Bud is correct that so many goals will be unaffected by the scoreboard of one game. Health is always a key factor for a team trying to make a deep playoff run and win it all. Minnesota has put forth extensive science and efforts in trying to prevent injuries, reduce the weekly impact on players and use a player-centric approach to any necessary rehabs.

As good as Darrisaw is, he had his hands full with Micah Parsons, giving up his first two sacks of the year before he left the game with a concussion.

My question is, why didn't O'Connell at some point put a tight end on the left side for some help? Come on man! At some point you have to adjust and do what is necessary regardless of the game plan.

With Darrisaw out for Thursday night's matchup with the Patriots, I hope I'm not witnessing a Matt Judon sack show.

— Mike McGee in Belvidere, Illinois

I think part of the reasoning for not putting additional resources to help Darrisaw is because of how good he has been. Darrisaw did not participate last Wednesday and was limited Thursday as he cleared the concussion protocol. He fully participated Friday after doing so.

Parsons ranks second in the NFL with 10 sacks, but he's hardly the only Dallas player capable of rushing the passer (as we saw). Judon is the only player with more sacks than Parsons this season, having recorded 13 of New England's 35.

It seemed to me the team was out of sync or out of sorts. I could hardly believe it was the same team. Does this validate the talk that the Vikings cannot beat a great team, only mediocre ones??

— Nancy Tuders

There's been plenty of pundits explaining away each of Minnesota's wins this season for one reason or another, whether it was facing a backup quarterback or the Bills making an incredibly rare mistake, etc.

When asked about a hangover from the Buffalo win, O'Connell said:

"There's going to be a lot of narratives about our team that we can or can't control — we really can't control, we know that. We've just got to look inward to our locker room. I felt all along we've got the right kind of guys. We've got the right coaching staff. I do believe that we will respond to this the right way, but at this point in the season, November comes, and sometimes you can get hit in the mouth. This league has a way of humbling any football team at any point in time if you don't play good football. We did, and we've got to learn from this and make sure we move forward in the right direction and really trust that we're going to handle this response the right way."

There's plenty of tough challenges for the Vikings ahead.

Sunday's game was a disappointment for the team and fans on so many levels. As I sat watching, it was almost as though the Cowboys had a glimpse inside our playbook. I'm just a fan, but it looked like every one of our plays was anticipated.

Has anyone questioned the possibility?

— Drew Thomes

You are the first to pose that question to me. I think you have to credit Dallas for making stops early, with forcing the turnover and then being able to limit Minnesota's second possession to a field goal and getting the game to the point where they could play it exactly how they wanted to.

At this point in the season, there's quite a bit of film and tendencies to review on every opponent, and I'm sure Belichick and the Patriots will have an impressive attack plan.

Why was the trench constantly backed up and playing from the linebacker position?

— Pat Jungers in Roseville, Minnesota

That's a credit to the Cowboys offensive line for executing. Minnesota missed Dalvin Tomlinson, no doubt, and will be better off the sooner he's able to return. The Vikings have made it clear, though, that they don't plan to rush him back. That's part of the benefit of a four-game lead in the division and a two-game margin on the No. 2 seed.

Offensive plays need time to develop, and O-line positional depth needs are critical for the long season. Injuries are a normal part of the game. What are your thoughts about planning for this reality?

— S. Gentling

A play is only as good as the protection allows it to be.

The Vikings added interior veterans Austin Schlottmann and Chris Reed this offseason. Schlottmann has been active and played offense on a limited basis, but Reed is yet to be active this season. There hasn't been an expression by the coaches that change is coming, but O'Connell said he and the staff were going to discuss the best way to proceed without Darrisaw.

Brandel could be in line to make his first career start after playing 39 offensive snaps in each of the past two games. Perhaps the best news coming out of Sunday's game was that Cleveland was OK.

Thank you for your column. Good luck to Mississippi State in the Egg Bowl!

Now, I have been a Vikings fan since September 17, 1961, when a rookie quarterback named Fran Tarkenton, a group of castoffs, rookies and a volatile coach, storming Norm Van Brocklin beat the Chicago Bears 37-13.

I have learned from experience to be a good Vikings fan, you need a good sense of humor and a short-term memory.

The Vikings are never as good as they appear or as bad as they seem.

They have three days to right their ship.

We haven't beaten the Patriots in 22 years. Now would be a great time to end that streak!

— Nick in Northglenn, Colorado

Promise I'm not being swayed by the well wishes for the Bulldogs, but I do appreciate them!

I love that you've been with the Vikings from the get-go, and I think the need for a good sense of humor and a short-term memory can be beneficial to fans, as well as players and coaches.

The Vikings won earlier this season at Miami for the first time since 1976 and at Buffalo for the first time since 1997. Maybe this squad can also stop the five-game win streak by the Patriots.

I flew from New Jersey to Minnesota to watch that game and wish I didn't. Feels like I wasted my money to see that horrible game. How do you play the game like you had in Buffalo and play like you weren't ready against Dallas? Looks like the same old Vikings since the '70s for me — can't win big games.

— Tom

Sorry the trip wasn't all that you had hoped for but appreciate you making it to U.S. Bank Stadium. The Vikings have additional opportunities to make subsequent games more important and prepare themselves to perform better if they find themselves in such games.

I'll close by wishing everyone a Happy Thanksgiving. I hope you have a safe and enjoyable holiday. It is one I've always appreciated.