It feels like ages ago when the Cowboys were oh-so-close to handing the Pittsburgh Steelers their first loss of the year. The bye week has certainly been quiet in Dallas, but it’s over now as the team travels to Minneapolis to take on the Vikings. Both teams have gotten off to a rough start, and many in each fanbase had been looking to the future already (although some Vikings fans are having a change of heart), but the history between these two teams has plenty to talk about.
Much of that history has come this century. Of their 31 all-time contests, nearly a third of the contests between the Cowboys and Vikings have come since 2000. In that span, the Vikings have actually gone 6-3 against Dallas, but five of those games came in the first decade of the century. It involved two different playoff games where Dallas got blown out each time.
The first one came in January of 2000 at the conclusion of the 1999 season. Second-year head coach Chan Gailey made the playoffs for the second consecutive year, but a three-touchdown performance from Vikings quarterback Jeff George resulted in a 27-10 win for Minnesota. That would prove to be Gailey’s final game in Dallas. The second playoff match this century was in the playoffs following the incredible 2009 season. After blowing out the Eagles for their first playoff win since 1996, the Cowboys reversed roles against the Brett Favre-led Vikings. Favre tossed four touchdowns to lead a 34-3 dismantling of the team. The very next year, Wade Phillips would get fired after a 1-7 start to the season that included a narrow 24-21 loss to the Vikings a week before Tony Romo got knocked out for the year.
Under the Jason Garrett era, though, these two teams met three times and the Cowboys came away with a 2-1 record. Garrett’s first game against the Vikings came in 2013, which proved to be the final year for Minnesota’s head coach at the time, Leslie Frazier. The Vikings were going back and forth between Christian Ponder and Matt Cassel at quarterback, and Ponder got the start against Dallas. He turned the ball over twice, which helped the Cowboys score a narrow 27-23 victory.
The next two games both came with Dak Prescott under center. The first was his rookie year, and the Cowboys were on a roll at 10-1, while the Vikings had just fallen to 6-5. To make matters worse, head coach Mike Zimmer was set to miss this Thursday Night Football game due to eye surgery a few days prior, which meant special teams coordinator Mike Priefer would assume interim head coach duties and defensive coordinator George Edwards would call the defensive plays for the first time in his tenure in Minnesota.
The results were ultimately promising for Minnesota, as they held the powerful rookie duo of Prescott and Ezekiel Elliott to just 17 points, the lowest that Dallas had scored at that point in the season. The problem is that the Vikings only managed 15 points; they didn’t get a touchdown until the final minute, when Sam Bradford hit Jerick McKinnon from three yards out. A failed two-point conversion that would have tied things up sealed the deal, and Dallas extended their winning streak to 11 games while further cementing the star power of their two rookies.
The next time these two met would feature a Cowboys loss that highlighted the growing friction between the treatment of those two rookies from 2016. We all remember this game, since it happened just last year. Minnesota ended up winning the game 28-24 thanks in large part to Dalvin Cook’s 183 scrimmage yards between the ground and air attacks, but Dallas had a shot to win the game in the end.
With just over a minute remaining in the fourth quarter, the Cowboys had the ball at the Vikings’ 11-yard line with a third down and two. Dak, who finished the game with 397 yards and three touchdowns, had orchestrated another beautiful drive to get to this point. But on third and short in a critical situation, they chose to take the ball out of his hands and give it to Zeke, who had been bottled up all night (47 yards on 20 carries). Elliott got tackled for a three-yard loss. The Cowboys smartly went for it on fourth down, but failed to pick it up, sealing the win for Minnesota.
This moment served as the flashpoint for the argument that the Cowboys needed to trust Dak to make plays more often instead of relying on their running game at all times. It was also the game wherein many fans lost confidence in Rod Marinelli and Kris Richard, as their defense was carved up by the use of basic outside zone runs and screen passes. In many ways, that game was the beginning of the end for the Garrett regime; Dallas went 3-4 in their remaining games after that Vikings loss.
Today, one of the more interesting bits of history between these teams comes from their coaches. Zimmer, in his seventh season in Minnesota, was once a rising star in Dallas. He began his NFL coaching career with the Cowboys, rising through the ranks from defensive assistant to defensive coordinator under Bill Parcells. All in all, he spent 13 seasons in Dallas.
That’s the same amount of seasons Mike McCarthy spent in Green Bay, where he faced this Vikings team twice a year. His teams generally dominated their divisional rivals in purple, although that changed once Zimmer took the helm. McCarthy was 15-9-2 against the Vikings in his career; the Vikings are the only team McCarthy has ever tied with, and it happened twice, oddly enough.
Another element in this history is the presence of Edwards, currently the senior defensive assistant for Dallas. Edwards was Zimmer’s right hand man for his first six seasons there, playing an integral role in weekly defensive game planning despite Zimmer calling plays in-game. He has received various head coaching interviews in his time there, but it never materialized. Edwards’ departure from Minnesota last year was a surprise to many, and it seems to have had an effect as the Vikings defense has taken a significant step back this year. It will be interesting to see if Edwards can give the rest of the Cowboys coaches some sort of leg up on Zimmer’s team this week.
All in all, though, the regular season series between these two teams is tied at 12-12. That means whoever wins this matchup will lead the regular season series, although the Cowboys’ four playoff wins over the Vikings in the 70’s and 90’s means Dallas has a 16-15 lead overall.
One of those playoff games in the 70s is about as an iconic game as the NFL has to offer. On On Dec. 28, 1975, the Cowboys faced the Vikings in a playoff game. The Cowboys were trailing with just about a half minute to go when Roger Staubach launched a 50-yard bomb to Drew Pearson that ended up being the game-winner. Legend has it this was when the Hail Mary was born after Roger Staubach called it a Hail Mary pass after the game.
Getting back to the present, both teams would firmly put themselves into their respective divisional races with a win, while a loss for either team would be a significant step towards thinking exclusively about the draft. We’ll see who can get an advantage in this series.