MINNEAPOLIS –The Vikings defensive line wasn't intimidated by the highly touted Cowboys offensive line Thursday night.
"I love hearing that … that's a challenge for our defensive line," defensive end Brian Robison said after the game. "I feel like our guys, we're going to rise up to the challenge every time."
While the evening ended in a heartbreaking 17-15 loss after an unsuccessful two-point conversion attempt, it wasn't for lack of effort by a Minnesota defensive line that did more than hold its own for most of the night.
"I'll be honest with you – they made some plays, we made some plays," Robison said following the game. "But I think for most of the day, our d-line handled their o-line.
"They had a few chunk plays that we had to handle and take care of," he added. "But at the end of the day, I think if they're considered the best offensive line in the league, then there's no doubt in my mind that we should be the best defensive line in the league."
The Vikings defensive linemen combined for three sacks, two tackles for loss, six quarterback hits, two forced fumbles and a fumble recovery.
Arguably Robison's biggest play of the game was a one-two punch inside the final minute of the third quarter. Robison was able to skirt around the outside of Dallas' offensive line to sack quarterback Dak Prescott, forcing a fumble that was recovered by Robison's linemate Everson Griffen.
The turnover handed the ball back to the Vikings offense, and the drive ended in a 33-yard field goal by Kai Forbath, his third of the night. Robison said it was frustrating that Minnesota couldn't walk away with seven.
"It's a momentum changer," Robison said of the forced fumble. "But hats off to their defense – they were able to make a stop. We were able to put three points on the board, but we have to be able to capitalize. Sometimes we shot ourselves in the foot, and sometimes they just made plays to win the game."
One of the defense's biggest goals heading into Thursday's game was controlling rookie running back Ezekiel Elliott, who currently leads the NFL in rushing yards.
Cornerback Xavier Rhodes said he was impressed with the way the defensive line contained Elliott, who finished the game with 86 yards rushing.
"Our front seven played well," Rhodes said. "Those guys were stopping Ezekiel Elliott. I mean, we watched film, and that guy was breaking for long runs.
"We held him from what he usually does, and I feel like those guys played well."
Robison said after the game that he saw a problem with the officiating of the game and missed calls.
"You got holding calls all over the place that people don't want to call, and Bradford gets hit in the face at the end of the game, and they don't call it. I'm not blaming this loss on reffing, but at some point it needs to get better."
Robison felt like the times Dallas held exceeded the three offensive holding penalties it was charged with during the game.
"Teams are going to do different things against us because of what we're able to do with our front four and the blitz package we have," Robison said. "They're going to try to establish a run, and then they're going to try to do some max protections and things like that. A lot of times, you see a last-ditch effort, they just grab and hold."
Linebacker Chad Greenway said after the game that he respects the Cowboys offensive that's been successful all season, and Thursday's game, despite the loss, reflected even more the talent of Minnesota's defense, in particular the defensive line.
"Those guys are a good football team," Greenway said of the Cowboys. "We are a good football team. We're a great defensive team. To say we respect them, absolutely, to say we were going to be overwhelmed, we just didn't feel that way. We know what we have in our front seven."
A number of players, including Greenway and Robison, said the loss especially stung in the absence of Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer, who missed the game after undergoing emergency eye surgery for a detached retina Wednesday night.
"He puts his heart and soul into this, and we have to give it back to him, and that's what we're trying to do," Robison said. "We know how bad he wanted to be here and we know how bad it hurts him not to be here."
Special Teams Coordinator Mike Priefer stepped in as interim head coach for the prime-time game. Robison said he felt Priefer "did an unbelievable job," and Priefer held an equal level of praise for the defense.
"I thought our defense played fantastic," Priefer said. "They buckled down, they played their tails off."
The loss to Dallas brought Minnesota's record to 6-6 heading into the final stretch of the season.
"At the end of the day, what we have to do is what we always do," Robison said. "Put this behind us, move forward and get ready for the next one."