MINNEAPOLIS — This one, a home game, with a blown lead against a QB making his first NFL start, has potential to be one of the most lamentable missed opportunities for the Vikings in 2021.
The Vikings were unable to protect a narrow lead late and allowed the Cowboys to score in the final minute for a 20-16 win on Sunday Night Football.
"OK, disappointing loss. You know, we – seems like for many weeks here we've had teams on the rope and haven't been able to finish and we either win them at the end or lose them at the end," said Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer. "That kind of stuff kind of caught up to us. We had two turnovers tonight, didn't get any points off of them. First-and-goal at the 4-yard line, don't get anything there, get three points. We give up a long ball down the middle on third down. Miss a tackle on [third-and-11], [Ezekiel Elliott] ran through two guys on a checkdown. Those kinds of things will get you beat. We have to continue to try to do better in those situations."
No Points Off Turnovers
Minnesota forced two turnovers by Dallas but scored no points off either takeaway.
Safety Xavier Woods had a hand in forcing both turnovers.
He picked off Cooper Rush in the first half to give Minnesota the ball at its own 40, but the Vikings offense followed with a three-and-punt.
After an illegal contact penalty gave Minnesota another 5 yards, Dalvin Cook was stopped for no gain, and a pass to Tyler Conklin gained 5. Kirk Cousins' pass to K.J. Osborn on third-and-5 was incomplete, forcing a punt.
Dallas followed by getting on the board with a field goal to trail 7-3.
Woods also was able to force a fumble when he blitzed and sacked Rush with 10 minutes left in the fourth quarter. Anthony Barr recovered the ball to give Minnesota possession at its own 48-yard line.
The Vikings backtracked immediately, with Cousins taking an intentional grounding penalty for a loss of down and 13 yards. An incompletion on an attempt to Justin Jefferson followed (although it would have been erased because of a hold by Olisaemeka Udoh that was declined). A draw play to Alexander Mattison gained 4 before the Vikings punted with the score tied at 13.
It was Minnesota's third consecutive possession that ended with a three-and-out.
"We've had too many three-and-outs. We have to correct that," Cousins said. "Three in a row is just far too many so, that's one area to improve in a major way going forward."
Deep attempt falls incomplete
There's always a handful of plays a team would like to do over in any game.
It's likely the one that will replay in the mind of Cousins and Jefferson is an incompletion on second-and-7 at the Dallas 49-yard line. In the first quarter and up 7-0, Minnesota was looking to build on momentum from scoring its first drive.
Jefferson executed a move and the Dallas defender fell down, leaving the second-year receiver all alone. He couldn't corral the deep toss. Minnesota followed by burning its first timeout of the first half before an incompletion to Conklin and a punt.
Rather than a 14-0 lead, the score remained 7-0.
The lack of an extra timeout haunted the Vikings late in the first half when Minnesota opted not to use its final timeout after a 13-yard scramble by Cousins to the Minnesota 34. The scramble began on a play that was snapped with 32 seconds remaining. There were just five second left by the time the next play was snapped.
Defense gives way on final drive
As for the defense, there were a few plays within the horrific final drive that defenders that could have finished the Cowboys.
The first was a 33-yard reception by Amari Cooper on a ball that bounced off cornerback Bashaud Breeland.
The second was a play on which Harrison Smith was flagged for illegal hands to the face while jamming tight end Blake Jarwin. That penalty wiped a play that was initially ruled a fumble by Noah Brown that was recovered by Barr.
The third was a 15-yard completion to Elliott on third-and-11 that occurred one snap before the game winner.
Add it all up, and the Vikings (3-4) are back under .500 again, thanks to their fourth loss this season by a combined 15 points.