MINNEAPOLIS – Absolutely nothing went right for Minnesota Sunday.
The Vikings started a three-game homestand by hosting the Cowboys, who grabbed momentum early and never let go.
After winning the coin toss and electing to receive, Minnesota stumbled early.
Kirk Cousins handed off to Dalvin Cook twice but on third-and-3 started to scramble. He was sacked by Dallas' Micah Parsons, who also forced a fumble that was recovered by Dorance Armstrong.
Cousins acknowledged that he had the ball with just one hand and should have secured it with two before running.
"I've got to be better," he said.
View game action photos of the Vikings vs. Cowboys in the Week 11 matchup at U.S. Bank Stadium.
The Vikings defense did hold the Cowboys to a field goal on the subsequent series, but the turnover seemed to foreshadow the entire game.
"From then on out, it just felt like we were reaching," Vikings Head Coach Kevin O'Connell said.
Minnesota netted just 183 yards of offense in the 40-3 loss. And an even more incriminating stat? The team converted just one of 11 third-down attempts.
Dalvin Cook had some success in the ground game, averaging 6.5 yards per rush and finishing with 11 carries for 72 yards. But he couldn't quite break any huge runs. Falling behind early backed the Vikings into need-to-throw situations.
"We want to be in a place where we're not having to drop back too much," Cousins said. "You certainly need to be in a game when you're right there and not behind where you have to drop back, so that's the part that you feel you can stay in the game and keep yourself from being in those scenarios."
Cousins faced significant pressure all day long, and the offensive line just didn't hold up to a Cowboys pass rush anchored by Parsons.
"He's a great player," Cousins said. "I find each week when you study for your opponent each team seems to have a player, pass rusher that's pretty elite, and he's in that category of one of the better pass rushers in this league that you have to be aware of, and he can impact the game."
Parsons accounted for 2.0 of Dallas' 7.0 sacks of Cousins, all of which occurred in the game's first three quarters. Armstrong also recorded 2.0; Demarcus Lawrence, Dante Fowler and former Viking Jayron Kearse added a sack apiece.
Cousins said there was a "combination of reasons" for the sacks.
"When you get behind, then you allow a lot more of a drop-back game, and that certainly played into their ability to rush us," he reiterated.
Right guard Ed Ingram said: "They came to play today. Everything was going right for them. … They're a good team, as well. It seemed like it was a little tough for us to get into a rhythm."
Cousins was 12-of-23 passing for 105 yards with no interceptions and no touchdowns. His passer rating was 64.6.
"Kirk tried to battle. It was a tough night to play quarterback out there," O'Connell said. "We've gotta do some things to help him in any way, shape or form we can."
Left tackle Christian Darrisaw, who left last week's game with a concussion but cleared protocol this week, suffered another concussion and was ruled out for the remainder of the day. He was replaced by Blake Brandel.
"Obviously second concussion in a couple weeks, so we're going to be extra cautious with him moving forward," O'Connell said. "I can say he will not be playing on Thursday.
"This is one of our best players, with a long-term future here, and we're gonna make sure that C.D. is absolutely – like we did this week – we'll make sure he's absolutely ready to roll when that time comes," he added.
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Brandel said the Vikings "didn't step up" to the challenge of a stout Dallas pass rush.
O'Connell opted to pull Cousins and other starters – on offense and defense – partway into the fourth quarter, in order to preserve players' health when the game had gotten out of hand. Cousins was replaced by backup QB Nick Mullens, who finished the day 5-of-7 passing for 54 yards, no touchdowns and no interceptions. His passer rating was 93.8.
Dallas didn't allow a single Viking to total 50 receiving yards. Tight end T.J. Hockenson led the team with five catches for 34 yards, followed by Justin Jefferson's three grabs for 33.
Hockenson said the team retained confidence in its ability to come back in the second half, but the execution just wasn't there.
"Bad things tend to stack on each other, and that's kind of what happened," he said. "But that's a good team that we played. They've got a lot of good players."
Jefferson said it "definitely doesn't feel good" to suffer such a steep loss – especially to the Cowboys, who now are 4-0 at U.S. Bank Stadium.
"I think we only had 54 [offensive] plays total, and that includes once we've pulled our guys there in the fourth quarter," O'Connell said. "Not enough offensively to sustain and take the pressure off our defense."
The brutal loss came after an exhilarating, come-from-behind win at Buffalo last week. It can be difficult to win coming off such a physically and mentally demanding game, but O'Connell emphasized that it's no excuse for a poor performance.
"This is not the first time we're going to have to an emotional win, to come back and play the next week – with much more energy," he said. "We've gotta coach better, play better across the board.
"But [this is a] huge opportunity for our team to really look inward," O'Connell continued. "We expect in these tough times to be able to rely on our locker room, our players and our coaches, and we'll be right back here in four days with an opportunity to get this taste out of our mouth."
A short week is never easy in the NFL, but a silver lining for Minnesota is the opportunity to quickly turn the page.
The Vikings will host the 6-4 Patriots on Thanksgiving night. New England defeated the Jets 10-3 Sunday on a last-second punt return touchdown.
Adam Thielen said he's thankful for the opportunity to play again so soon and hopefully bounce back from Sunday.
"We know that's not who we are," he said. "We did not play our brand of football. We didn't do the things we always talk about that have helped us win eight games so far. The truth is, we got our butts kicked. But also the truth is we're 8-2, and we're in a good position.
"We've gotta move on quickly and go back to work," Thielen added.
View pregame photos of Vikings players ahead of their Week 11 matchup vs. the Cowboys at U.S. Bank Stadium.
The Vikings are disappointed but not despairing.
"This is not the end of our season," Jefferson said. "We're 8-2, and we've got a lot of season left."