On a day when the Vikings defense gave Minnesota every chance to win, it was the Dallas defense that stepped up and pulled out a win for the Cowboys. For the better part of 45 minutes, Dallas played average ball and made more mistakes than they have all season. Thanks, Gavin Escobar.
Jason Garrett maintained a steady hand and Anthony Hitchens played the best game of his season to complement Sean Lee in the middle of the field. The Dallas defense was put into a difficult situation after Dak Prescott’s third fumble of the season which gave the ball to Minnesota inside the 20-yard line with a chance to re-take the lead. Following a stingy performance from the Dallas defense inside their redzone limiting Minnesota to just a field goal, Dallas’ own Kyle Wilber made the play of the game with a fumble recovery on a kickoff return one series later. This play from their backup linebacker allowed Dak to find Dez Bryant for a quick-strike, game-leading touchdown against Xavier Rhodes.
With Dallas nursing an eight point lead, the fourth quarter was a consistent set of effective pass rushing and a few sacks from Hitchens and Benson Mayowa that effectively put the game away, until Travis Frederick made a very uncharacteristic mistake with a fumble on third down with only a few minutes left.
Unexpectedly, this forced the defense to once again show what they are capable of. While the final drive highlighted Sam Bradford's heroics, it was the defense, led by a relentless DeMarcus Lawrence and a lucky-for-no-penalty Cedric Thornton pass rush, that pressured Bradford into a horrible pass on the two-point conversion attempt. This was the kind of performance the defense needed to put together as December and cold weather games loom.
In a game where Dak had his lowest passing yardage of the season, where Ezekiel Elliott was effectively limited all game and the Dallas formula of ball control was turned upside down, the defense (and special teams) came through with just enough grit to allow the Cowboys to win their eleventh straight game. The Cowboys gave up a lot of yards to a Vikings offense that isn’t very good, and they also allowed the Vikings offense to control time of possession. But in the end, they limited the unit to just 15 points. In the NFL, holding a team to 15 points should be enough. This week it was, just barely. This win keeps the Seattle Seahawks and New York Giants at bay and lessens the pressure of the NFC East showdown next week in New York.