ARLINGTON, Texas — Eric Kendricks doesn’t care about style points. And neither do the rest of his teammates.
The Vikings defense wasn’t at its best in a thrilling 28-24 win over Dallas on Sunday Night Football, but the unit stepped up when it mattered most in the final two minutes at AT&T Stadium.
“These are huge games,” Kendricks said. “We know what’s at stake, and I can’t stress enough how crucial it is to get a win on the road.
“This one feels good. This one feels real good. We fought,” Kendricks added. “And when the lights come on, you have to show up.”
It was the Vikings linebacker who made the play of the night against the Cowboys.
Dallas faced fourth-and-5 at the Vikings 14-yard line with 44 seconds left. Kendricks lined up in the slot against Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott, who ran an out route.
No problem for Kendricks, who simply stayed with Elliott and tipped away the pass from Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott.
“I was on man-to-man and had no help,” Kendricks said. “Honestly, I was locked in. I knew it was me and him.
“I had to guard him, so I guarded him,” Kendricks added. “I lined up and kind of felt like the ball was coming to me. I knew what I had to do.”
Kendricks was mobbed by his teammates after the play, many of whom sang his praises in the locker room after the game.
“That was a great play by him,” said Vikings safety Jayron Kearse. “He’s been playing great all year, better than any linebacker in the league if you ask me.
“He’s getting the notoriety he deserves and just keeps making plays,” Kearse added. “He’s always been making plays since I’ve got here. He made a big play for us.”
Added linebacker Anthony Barr: “Shoot … game on the line … we have to make a play.”
Kendricks’ play came one snap after another crucial sequence, as Ifeadi Odenigbo played hero at first.
Dallas had third-and-2 at the 11-yard line before Odenigbo, a defensive end who was lined up inside, stuffed Elliott for a loss of 3 yards on a run play.
“I could kind of tell by their stances that it was going to be a run, so I thought, ‘Some [stuff] is about to happen.’ They ran it to my side, and I did a quick under move and I was able to get in the backfield and stop it,” Odenigbo said. “I was a 3-tech. They ran a press weak, outside zone to my side. All the things you’re not supposed to do as a 3-tech, I did [laughs].”
“It was third-and-2, they thought they might catch us slipping. You could tell by their stances, it was a little tip,” Odenigbo added. “I was fortunate enough to make the play. I’m just happy we won. That’s the most important thing.”
While those plays gave the ball back to the offense and forced Dallas to burn all three of its timeouts, the Vikings had to make one final stop before they could breathe easy.
But Kearse came through — all 6-foot-4 of him — as he picked off Prescott’s last-gasp throw into the end zone to preserve the win.
“The ball just came in the air, and I did my best to track the ball and try to come down with it,” Kearse said. “I’m not a normal size for a DB, so being able to get up there and track the ball … I was reaching higher than anybody else was.”
Sunday night’s game wasn’t always pretty for the Vikings, who allowed a season-high 443 yards, including 393 to Prescott through the air.
Dallas was also 9-of-15 on third downs, but it was the Vikings defense that came up clutch late by stopping Dallas on its final three third-down plays.
But the effort was enough to help the Vikings get to 7-3 and keep pace with the 8-2 Packers, along with putting a little cushion between themselves and others in the Wild-Card race.
“We have a bunch of fighters here,” Odenigbo said. “We brought 53 of our best men and we came here to fight. We knew the obstacles, but I’m proud of these boys.”
Added Zimmer: “Proud of this team – the way they fought and the way they worked.”
Kendricks had the final word.
“We left some things out there, we also did a lot of really good things,” Kendricks sais. “We left Dallas with a win, and that’s the No. 1 important thing.”