MINNEAPOLIS – The Vikings offense got rolling in the second half Sunday, but the unit failed to keep the ball away from the Cowboys on a quick possession with less than six minutes remaining or execute a comeback after the Cowboys scored with 1:37 left on the clock..
Minnesota's 31-28 loss to Dallas dropped the Vikings to 4-6 on the season.
The Vikings offense met some obstacles in the first half, with Kirk Cousins and Dalvin Cook both losing fumbles.
Cousins faced pressure early and often from the Dallas defensive line in the first half. He handled the heat well for the most part, but on an 8-yard sack by DeMarcus Lawrence and Donovan Wilson, the latter managed to pop the ball loose before Cousins was ruled down.
The hit that Wilson initiated with his helmet on Cousins' helmet wasn't flagged.
"You know, it all happened so fast you're not even aware of where he hit you," Cousins said. "But my focus there is, 'Hey, when I'm in the pocket like that and under duress, I have to take an even tighter grip and make sure I end with the football.' On that play I didn't end with the football, and that's no good."
Cook later fumbled after a big hit by Wilson, and Lawrence recovered the ball.
Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer said he wasn't sure exactly what accounted for the slow start offensively.
"We were getting here and there, little bits in the run game – it wasn't explosive," Zimmer said. "If you look back in the ball game, they were second-and-5 a lot, and we were second-and-8. I think first down was probably a big key throughout the game. We were much better in the second half offensively, but defensively we just weren't quite as good."
After the pair of turnovers sent Minnesota into the locker room trailing Dallas 16-7, a monster play – or should we say two? – from Cousins to Adam Thielen sparked what became a second-half shootout.
On the third play of the third quarter, Cousins heaved a pass deep to Thielen for a 51-yard gain. Cousins kept the drive alive two plays later, when he scrambled on third-and-3 to set Minnesota up with first-and-goal.
After two tries with Cook, Cousins targeted Thielen again, and the receiver needed just the fingertips of his right hand to haul in the touchdown.
"It was a tremendous catch. He's capable of that daily at practice, and you see it so much that I'm probably not as wowed by it as others," Cousins said. "Just a tremendous effort, the combination of the catch but ability to keep your feet down and get two feet in, very special."
The impressive grab was the second such score by Thielen in as many games, perhaps one-upping his Monday Night Football catch at Chicago.
His 35th career touchdown also helped the Minnesota native move up the Vikings leaderboards, advancing him past Vikings Ring of Honor receiver Ahmad Rashad for sixth-most receiving scores in team history.
But Thielen wasn't done yet.
On the first play of the fourth quarter, Cousins threw a short pass to the Thielen for his second score of the game and 11th of the season. According to NFL Research, Thielen is the only player in franchise history with 11-plus receiving touchdowns in the first 10 games of a season, surpassing Randy Moss' 10 in 2003.
He now has 26 career touchdown catches from Cousins, more than any other teammate in the quarterback's career. (Tight end Jordan Reed is next with 19).
"I thought getting the bootlegs going was a big help to us in the second half. We didn't get at those early, and we were able to take advantage of those on the big one to Adam, the touchdown to Adam and a couple to Rudy (Kyle Rudolph). That was positive," Cousins said. "I thought we had good, productive runs in the second half as well, which was positive. It was kind of a mix of run and pass and different ways of doing it. We had a good rhythm to us."
The Cowboys, who have struggled mightily against the run all season, limited Cook to just 37 rushing yards over the first two quarters. He did make up for lost ground in the second half, racking up 15 carries and 78 yards for a total of 115 on the day. He added another 45 through the air, including on a 26-yard screen pass late in the second quarter.
"I think we did a pretty good job on the ground today, sticking with it, staying with it," Cook said. "We gave ourselves a chance to win. We just didn't pull it off. But we knew the type of team we were facing – fast team, coming off a bye week, fresh team, do a lot of movements, run sets, just [doesn't have the record] to show. They're a good team.
"We never got on schedule in the first half. The first half was just like, it was all a blur," he later said. "Once we came out in the second half, guys were seeing, 'If we stay, if we do the things we need to do to win this game, we can win it.' And I think they probably stopped us once in the second half. … We could have done the same thing in the first half, but we never got on schedule to make those plays."
Cook's outing gave him a total of 750 scrimmage yards over a four-game span, the most by any Viking in team history. Adrian Peterson held the previous record with 740.
Cousins finished the game 22-of-30 passing for 314 yards with three touchdowns and no interceptions for a passer rating of 140.1, his fourth-best in Purple.
His third touchdown pass of the day was a perfectly placed throw to Justin Jefferson for a 39-yard score. The play occurred less than three minutes after the Cowboys scored on a touchdown to Tony Pollard, and it gave the Vikings a 28-24 lead heading into the final nine minutes.
The Vikings forced a punt less than three minutes later with 5:54 remaining in the game but went four-and-punt, taking off less than two minutes of clock.
Unfortunately, Minnesota allowed Dallas to drive down and score on a 2-yard pass to tight end Dalton Schultz.
The Vikings had an opportunity to answer with under two minutes remaining, but they couldn't get a first down. On second-and-6, Jefferson dropped a should-be catch over middle. Cousins targeted Thielen on the final two plays, but both were incompletions.
Cousins was asked following the game why things seemed to stall for Minnesota on its final two offensive possessions.
"Just individual plays. We had one where they kind of loaded us up in zone and threw incomplete. Then on third down, worked Adam on that out route; it was tight coverage, didn't hit it," Cousins said. "The two-minute, same thing. Got the completion on first down, second down – didn't get it. Third down, didn't get the out route to Adam there, either. Fourth down, played off schedule and didn't get that either, so it was just kind of a couple different plays."
View game action images as the Vikings take on the Dallas Cowboys during Week 11.
He called it a "heartbreaking loss" to start a three-game home stretch at U.S. Bank Stadium.
"It was hard-fought, it was a back and forth game. It was one of those games, and so many NFL games are like this, where one or two plays makes a difference," Cousins said. "You know that going into the game, 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.
"There's still a lot of football to be played. We have to bounce back quickly and get back on track," he added. "There are positives to point to, but ultimately when you don't win, you leave the stadium feeling sick to your stomach."