Eleven in a row! The game was certainly ugly. But it was a 17-15 victory over the Vikings nonetheless, and with only 16 regular season games and home-field advantage potentially at risk, a win is still a win. Maybe this is what Michael Irvin wanted last week, when he hoped for a loss against Washington. In other words, a game that knocked Dallas a bit off its pedestal before the games really count in the postseason. Something that would cause the team to re-focus and realize how much it still needs to work on. To do it in a victory is of course the best way to get that wake-up call, if you need it. The Cowboys may not have known they needed it, but they got it anyway.
Dak and Zeke’s performances were their second worst of the season, behind only the opening game loss to the Giants. Yet each of them made big plays.
Dak’s 14-yard run on 3rd and 13 from the Dallas 13 yard line led to Dallas’s first touchdown of the game, which gave them a 7-3 lead that held up until the fourth quarter. His 56-yard pass to Dez Bryant on the same drive was almost thrown too far for Dez to snag, but he caught it with his fingertips, rolled, and then was tackled at the one, where Zeke easily punched it in.
Zeke’s 30-yard run in the fourth quarter, which he almost broke for a TD, led to the Dallas field goal that gave the Cowboys an eight point cushion. He also recovered his own fumble deep in Dallas territory, and recovered the bobbled snap that could have been disastrous just outside the last two-minute warning.
They both also made huge mistakes.
Dak was stripped of the ball at the Cowboys 17-yard line late in the third quarter, which allowed Minnesota to take a 9-7 lead. He also fumbled the snap on what could have been the game-clinching first down with just over two minutes left. It forced a Dallas punt, and allowed Minnesota to get a TD to pull within two.
Elliott was penalized for holding while pass blocking in the fourth quarter, negating Jason Witten’s only catch of the night to the Minnesota 33. This was while Dallas was behind 9-7. Fortunately, on the ensuing punt, Kyle Wilber came up huge with a forced fumble, giving Dallas first and goal on the Minnesota eight. Elliott also fumbled in the first quarter deep in Dallas territory, even though he was able recover his own miscue.
The real drag on Dallas in this game, other than these turnovers, was penalties. A Doug Free hold negated a 43-yard run by Zeke off the left side that would have taken the ball to the Minnesota 13. That drive ended with a Lucky Whitehead fumble. Free was also the lineman victimized on the strip-sack fumble against Dak. Gavin Escobar killed back-to-back drives with a clipping, then a holding call. Overall, Dallas got hit with 10 penalties for 78 yards. In some ways, that doesn’t seem so bad. But tonight, it killed drive after drive.
Yet it was a non-call against Cedric Thornton on the Minnesota two-point try for hitting Sam Bradford in the head that ended the game.
The stats were not good. Dak threw for only 139 yards, marking the second week in a row under 200, for the only two games under that mark. He ran six times for 37 yards, almost as many as the week before. Yet somehow he scored a 108.3 passer rating. Overall the Cowboys gained only 264 yards, far below their 400+ ypg average, and were only one for nine on third down, by far their worst performance on the year.
Zeke was held to 86 yards rushing, his worst showing since gaining 83 against Washington in week two. He gained 19 yards receiving, so overall he was over 100.
Yet all this added up to 17-15 win, first time since 1995 to win in Minnesota, and 10 days off until they take on the Giants. If the Giants lose to Pittsburgh this week, Dallas could clinch the NFC East next week.
11-1. The Force is with the Cowboys. pic.twitter.com/GKG3bM2qDq— Bleacher Report (@BleacherReport) December 2, 2016
Dak’s stats from his first twelve weeks.
(Note: The key stats here are Adjusted Net Yards per attempt, which demonstrates how well a QB gets the ball down the field and into the end zone. Completion percentage tends to show accuracy. Attempts shows the run/pass balance, with fewer attempts for QBs often the goal. Turnovers, or the lack of them, are also critical.)
Dak had the fewest yards passing, by far, on the season. His ANY/A was his third worst. His third down conversions were terrible. He turned the ball over for the first time in several games. Yet he hung in there just enough to make plays that helped win the game.
Dak hit only four receivers. Dez caught four passes on six targets for 84 yards and a touchdown (should have been two). Cole Beasley had his quietest night of the season with two catches on four targets for 23 yards. Zeke caught four balls on five attempts for 19 yards. And Terrance Williams caught two passes on three attempts for 13 yards. Jason Witten’s only catch was negated by an Elliott holding call. That’s the first time in 130 games Witten hasn’t caught a pass.
Dak extended his new streak of passes without an interception to 164 over his last six games. But he fumbled twice and lost one, so that streak will have to start over.
Dak ran the ball six times for 37 yards, including the critical 14-yard run to set up Dallas’s first touchdown. On a run that should have gone for a first down at the end of the game, he slid early, falling a yard short, and the 3rd-and-one play that followed led to a fumbled snap and near disaster.
Dak was out-passed by 108 yards, yet won the passer rating differential 108.3 (for Dak) to 91.6 (for Bradford), which is a key variable in who wins football games. The difference was that Dak got his yards in well under half of Bradford’s attempts.
How did Zeke do in game twelve? He was hit and miss all night. Nice opening-the-game run for a first down. Yet he fumbled in the first quarter. Nice 30-yard burst late, yet his holding call negated a Dallas drive when the team was behind in the fourth quarter. He did score his 12th rushing touchdown, tying Tony Dorsett’s team record for a rookie.
- Rushing: 20 carries, 86 yards, 4.3 YPC, 1 TD, long 30 yards, 1 fumble, not lost.
- Receiving: 4 receptions, 5 targets, 19 yards, 0 TD, long 16 yards.
What do his totals look like after twelve games?
Zeke is now at 1,285 yards rushing after twelve games. That projects out to 1,713 over 16 games, so he is now 97 yards behind the Eric Dickerson rookie pace. (Zeke has had runs of 63, 42, and 21 yards negated by penalties, or he could be ahead of the pace. Dickerson no doubt lost some of his runs on penalties too.)
There was no chance that the Cowboys were going to play three months without a poor offensive effort, but this was the season low for points, yards and 3rd-down conversions. They also tied their season high for giveaways and just did not look right all night long. They also had opportunities to ice the game away on two occasions but did not shove a sword into the Vikings' chest. We must recognize that the Vikings have the best defense the Cowboys have played all year, so I recommend nobody overreacts, but this offense now must face the reality that they were severely slowed down by a championship-caliber defense.
Is this an overreaction? Yes. This was a sloppy game for sure, but every team in the NFL has one or more of those each season. It was the Cowboys’ third game in 12 days. The Cowboys obviously need to clean things up, but at 11-1, they have time to do so. The sky is not falling. A win is still a win.
My guess is the Cowboys will come out of this game much like Michael Irvin hoped, re-focused after a 10-day rest and ready to steamroll the remaining opponents on the way to the playoffs.
My grades this week?
- Dak C. With a QB rating of 108.3, and his ability to make just enough plays when it counts to help his team win, it’s hard to go lower than this. The 14-yard scramble, and long pass to Dez were key. And, while he was stripped of the ball, he never forced a pass or gave up an interception.
- Zeke. C+. Zeke was bottled up for much of the game, and fumbled the ball (though he recovered it), but still gained 86 yards on 20 carries, and more than 100 yards from scrimmage for a team held to a season low 264. For most backs in the NFL, that’s an A game. His biggest downgrade was for his holding penalty in pass protection.
What did you think of their performances?