MINNEAPOLIS — The Vikings fought to the finish and held the Cowboys to a season-low for points, but the wave of emotion Minnesota rode into Thursday Night crashed with a heart-wrenching, gut-stomping 17-15 loss.
Dallas capitalized on a special teams turnover to set up an 8-yard touchdown pass from Dak Prescott to Dez Bryant and take a 14-9 lead with 10:22, added a field goal and forced an incompletion on Minnesota's attempt to tie the game on a two-point conversion in the final minute.
Sam Bradford led the Vikings on a 65-yard scoring drive that ended with a 3-yard touchdown pass to Jerick McKinnon to bring the game within two points.
Minnesota was flagged for a false start, moving the ball from the 2-yard line to the 7, and Bradford's pass, in the face of pressure, sailed over Kyle Rudolph. Bradford was hit in the facemask on the throw, but the infraction for a blow to the helmet was not flagged.
Jason Witten, who was held without a catch recovered the onside kick, ending a valiant attempt by Minnesota without Head Coach Mike Zimmer.
Zimmer underwent emergency eye surgery on Wednesday night and watched the game from his home. It was the first NFL game that he's ever missed, including one just days after his wife, Vikki, unexpectedly passed away in 2009.
Spielman said it was tough to convince Zimmer to stay away because of how "hard-headed and tough-minded" he is.
"We had some pretty significant talks one-on-one, heart-to-heart about what is important in life and what isn't," Spielman said. "I think after we've had a conversation and I expressed to him specifically that not going blind in one eye is more important than one game in the NFL."
Special Teams Coordinator Mike Priefer was named interim head coach and deftly challenged the spot of a Prescott run late that helped the Vikings get the ball back for one more shot at the scoreboard.
Bradford was 7-for-7 for 59 yards during the drive with throws of 18 to Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs for 15, but it was too little too late as the Vikings fell to 6-6 and the Cowboys improved to 11-1.
The Vikings took a 9-7 lead early in the fourth quarter on a 33-yard field goal by Kai Forbath, but were unable to fully capitalize on excellent field position. Brian Robison forced a fumble during a sack of Dak Prescott, and Everson Griffen recovered the ball at the Dallas 19.
Minnesota suffered a false start by T.J. Clemmings on first down and only got 9 yards on its next three plays.
The Vikings forced a punt to end Dallas' next possession, but Kyle Wilber forced a fumble by Thielen during a punt return. Officials initially ruled that Thielen held onto the football until he was down, but Dallas challenged the call and won a reversal.
The Cowboys took over at the Vikings 8-yard line, and Prescott executed a quick throw to Bryant for a touchdown and a 14-9 lead with 10:22 remaining.
Dallas added a 39-yard field goal by Dan Bailey for a 17-9 edge with 4:15 left in the game.
Bradford left the game with 52 seconds left in the first half after a hit to the right side of his chest by Maliek Collins. Shaun Hill replaced Bradford and completed a 6-yard pass to Thielen but took a sack by Collins on the following snap to force a punt.
Bradford played the entire second half and finished 32-of-45 passing (71.1 percent) for 247 yards for a rating of 91.6.
Danielle Hunter ended the first half with a sack of Prescott. It was the first of two on the night for Hunter, who has 9.5 on the season.
The Vikings scored the first three points of the game on a 48-yard field goal by Forbath to cap a six-play drive that netted 32 yards and lasted 3:17. The possession stalled when Alex Boone was flagged for holding to erase a conversion on a third-and-1 play.
Dallas answered in the second quarter thanks to the legs and arms of Prescott, who scrambled for a gain of 14 to convert third-and-13. Four plays later, Prescott connected with Bryant for a gain of 56 to the Minnesota 1-yard line. Ezekiel Elliott followed with a touchdown plunge to cap the eight-play, 84-yard drive that lasted 5:12.
Elliott finished with 86 yards on 20 carries, and Prescott added 37 on six attempts. Prescott was 12-of-18 passing for 139 yards and a rating of 108.3.