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Vikings-Cowboys Notebook: Self-Harm Piles Up

MINNEAPOLIS — A Vikings season marred by significant injuries has been footnoted recently with the team "shooting itself in the foot."

That continued in a 17-15 loss on Thursday Night Football.

Minnesota (6-6) was without Head Coach Mike Zimmer on Thursday because of his need for emergency eye surgery the night before and deep into players on the offensive line but took the lead on heavily favored Dallas (11-1) early in the fourth quarter.

The Vikings were up two and forced a punt, but the return was fumbled by Adam Thielen just before he was ruled down. Thielen, who alternated with Cordarrelle Patterson to fill in for Marcus Sherels a second straight game, tried to regain control of the ball. Initially, officials ruled he was down, but Dallas challenged the call and it was overturned, giving the Cowboys the ball at the Minnesota 8.

Dak Prescott threw a quick toss that Dez Bryant bobbled but reclaimed on the following play. Bryant was able to win a race to the pylon to give the Cowboys a 14-9 lead with 10:22 remaining.

The Vikings also started a possession inside the red zone after Brian Robison forced a fumble that Everson Griffen recovered at the Dallas 19 with 0:07 left in the third quarter.

The difference, however, was that the Vikings suffered a false start penalty on Anthony Harris on the following play, moving the ball back to the 24. Minnesota followed with a gain of 5 by Nick Easton, a gain of 4 on a pass from Kyle Rudolph to Thielen and an incompletion on a target to Laquon Treadwell, forcing the Vikings to settle for a 9-7 lead after Kai Forbath's third field goal of the night.

The Vikings also suffered a false start penalty against Jeremiah Sirles when they lined up for a two-point conversion play after a touchdown pass from Bradford to Jerick McKinnon with 30 seconds left. That pre-snap penalty moved the ball from the 2 to the 7, and Dallas' Cedric Thornton pressured Bradford's attempt toward Kyle Rudolph, causing the ball to be high. Thornton hit Bradford in the facemask, but it was not called.

"You just can't make those mistakes," linebacker Riley Reiff said. "In this league, you play hard, it's just not enough. This is a win business, and you've got to win in crunch time and play your best ball when it matters the most in situational football."

There were 10 times the Vikings lined up inside the Cowboys 20, including the two-point conversion and two penalties. On the other seven plays, Minnesota totaled 21 yards.

View game action images as the Vikings take on the Dallas Cowboys on Thursday Night Football at U.S. Bank Stadium.

Heavy hearts

The Vikings received a short but inspirational message Thursday morning from Zimmer and said they wanted to win for him.

He was not at the game but was allowed to watch from his home after his third eye surgery since Nov. 1.

Special Teams Coordinator Mike Priefer, who filled in for Zimmer as interim head coach, said it is tough to see Zimmer struggle with his health. Priefer said he appreciated the opportunity and "was sorry we didn't get it done."

"It was really tough to see his emotion knowing that he wouldn't be there with the team tonight," Priefer said of their talk that morning. "It would have been hard for me, because he's such a competitor, that's why I love working for him.

"He's a tough guy, he's a competitor, and it would have been awesome to have him here tonight," Priefer said. "But I had a brief conversation with him this morning about some game logistics, inactives and that sort of thing. Then talking to the other coaches, they all gave me encouragement."

Zimmer set the tone for the Vikings on Aug. 30 when Stefon Diggs went down with a dislocated knee in a non-contact practice drill. All-Pro Adrian Peterson suffered a torn meniscus in Week 2 and has been out since. The Vikings also have placed starting tackles Riley Reiff and Andre Smith on injured reserve and dealt with other injuries week-to-week.

"We've been through a lot here, but it's like Coach Zim' said, 'No excuses,' " McKinnon said. "He said that at the beginning of the year. It's kind of crazy how he foreshadowed that, but like I keep saying, it is what it is. We've got four games left, and we're still in it. Everybody's got to fight these next four games."

Mackensie Alexander said, "Oh yeah, there's definitely been a lot of stuff" for the Vikings to endure.

"At the same time, nobody in the NFL is going to make excuses for us," Munnerlyn said. "We are still going to move on. We have to find a way to win these games and try to get better."

Asked if he thinks this is the most-trying season, Greenway, the longest-tenured Viking, said, "After you go through 2010, you know nothing more can happen than that, so you just think everything else is kind of whatever.

"If Randy Moss comes back, then we can start talking," Greenway added.

Receiver returns

Stefon Diggs returned to the lineup after missing last week at Detroit and carded eight catches for 59 yards. Thielen added seven catches for 86 yards, and Rudolph had six catches for 45 yards.

Diggs now has 75 catches for 806 yards this season.

Rudolph set new career highs of catches (54) and receiving yards (513), moving past 500 for the first time of his career.

Forced and recovered

The Vikings forced three fumbles and recovered two.

Robison's was during a sack of Prescott that gave him 3.5 career sacks against the Cowboys.

Griffen also forced a fumble while chasing down Lucky Whitehead from behind, and Anthony Barr forced a fumble by Ezekiel Elliott that the rookie running back managed to recover at the Dallas 15.

Two more for Hunter

Danielle Hunter recorded two sacks of Prescott, bringing his season total to 9.5. He now has the fifth-most sacks by a Viking in his first two seasons. Hunter moved ahead of Jim Marshall (15.0) and trails Alan Page (19.5) by four.

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