MINNEAPOLIS — The Vikings defense had made noticeable progress in the past three games, a step in the right direction after struggling through the early part of the season.
And while Minnesota's performance Sunday wasn't as poor as those early showings, it wasn't as clean as the recent outings.
The end result was a handful of highlights and the disappointment of being unable to hold on to a pair of fourth-quarter leads in a 31-28 loss to the Cowboys.
"Defensively, we didn't play as well in the second half," said Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer.
Through the Cowboys first seven possessions, the Vikings allowed a pair of touchdowns but didn't allow a drive of more than 52 yards.
But on two of Dallas' final three possessions — excluding the last one with a pair of kneel downs — Minnesota allowed scoring drives of 75 and 61 yards as the Vikings were unable to close it out.
Minnesota took a 21-16 lead on the opening play of the fourth quarter when Adam Thielen hauled in a 3-yard touchdown pass.
But Dallas responded with a 75-yard drive, highlighted by a 42-yard touchdown run from running back Tony Pollard.
Vikings linebacker Eric Kendricks explained the breakdown on the play.
"He was hopping around, being super patient, not really moving, and they were sitting on the double teams hard," Kendricks said. "You try to be aggressive, try to go get him one way, and he out-patiented us on that one.
"We did a good job until then. We had a few runs that busted loose," Kendricks added. "We've got to play the run consistently throughout the whole game. We know they're a good running team, and we've got to be able to do better."
Minnesota allowed a season-high 180 rushing yards to Dallas. Ezekiel Elliott had 103 yards on 21 carries, while Pollard had 60 yards and a score on five attempts.
But the Vikings still had a chance to close the game out in the final minutes, as Minnesota had a 28-24 lead after a 39-yard touchdown catch by Justin Jefferson earlier in the quarter.
This time, the Vikings allowed the Cowboys to march 61 yards for the eventual game-winning score on a drive that took 11 plays.
Cowboys quarterback Andy Dalton was 4-of-6 passing on the drive, including the go-ahead, 2-yard score to a wide-open Dalton Schultz with just 97 seconds left.
But the quarterback's best throw was a fourth-and-6 conversion to Amari Cooper that went for 10 yards and barely beat rookie cornerback Jeff Gladney.
"That was a close play, contested and everything, right there. Jeff was right there," Kendricks said. "I mean, that's a hard route, especially against one of the best receivers, on an out route. You try not to let him beat you inside or whatever you may have.
"So, it's the hardest throw to make, it's toward the sideline, it's the farthest throw," Kendricks added. "Things happen, but we did a lot of things during the course of the game that we could've done better that would've put us in a better position. So, we're not going to blame it on that one play."
View game action images as the Vikings take on the Dallas Cowboys during Week 11.
Zimmer summed up Minnesota's defense in the second half.
"Obviously we can't get the fourth-down play to win the game," Zimmer said.
He later added: "I don't think we got pressure on Dalton. And we weren't as good against the run either."
Minnesota allowed 376 yards and limited Dallas to under 50 percent on third downs (the Cowboys were 5-for-11 on that down).
And the Vikings snagged a turnover, as Kendricks picked off Dalton early in the second quarter on a diving catch.
But the linebacker said he's among the many who wished a handful of plays would have turned in the Vikings favor, including a pass Kendricks nearly caught a few plays before Dalton's game-winning score.
"I wish I would have had the second one," Kendricks said. "I'm going to think about that all night tonight."
The Vikings now find themselves at 4-6 on the season and will need to regroup quickly in order to get a win and keep their playoff hopes alive.
"Man, you just get back to work, you know what I mean?" Kendricks said. "We had a good week of practice this last week. I feel like we came ready to play.
"We didn't play good enough … just put our head down [going forward]," Kendricks added. "We've faced adversity this season, and we've just got to keep it rolling."