Cowboys hold off Vikings for 11th win in row
MINNEAPOLIS -- Rookies Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliott are receiving the bulk of the credit for the Dallas Cowboys' impressive season.
Dallas' defense came through when it mattered on Thursday night.
The Cowboys forced their first takeaway since Oct. 30, and Dez Bryant scored on the next play early in the fourth quarter against the Minnesota Vikings. Then, with 30 seconds left, Dallas pressured Sam Bradford on a two-point attempt and forced an errant pass, allowing the Cowboys to hold on for a 17-15 victory Thursday night.
Bradford led an eight-play, 65-yard drive that began with just over two minutes remaining, pulling Minnesota within two points. However, he had a defender in his face on the conversion attempt, and his desperation pass to Adam Thielen in the end zone was too high.
Dallas secured the ensuing onside kick to win its 11th consecutive game, tying a franchise record.
"Definitely the epitome of a team win," said Dallas linebacker Kyle Wilber, who recovered a muffed punt for the Cowboys' first takeaway in five games. "Special teams showed up and played. Defense was doing outstanding. Offense was fighting. It was a great team win. "
Elliott was bottled up by the Vikings' defense until a 30-yard run set up a 39-yard field goal by Dan Bailey with 4:20 left. Elliott finished with 86 yards and a touchdown on 20 carries.
Prescott completed 12 of 18 passes for 139 yards and a touchdown. Bryant finished with 84 yards on four receptions for Dallas, which can become the first team to clinch a playoff berth with a loss or tie by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers or a loss by the Washington Redskins this weekend.
"We gotta stay grounded," Bryant said. "This success thing is kind of tricky. You can't get too high. That's the beginning of falling off. That's something that we're not going to do. We're going to stay together and keep fighting and keep hoping for the best.
Bradford was 32 of 45 for 247 yards and a touchdown for Minnesota (6-6), which was playing without its head coach. Mike Zimmer underwent emergency eye surgery Wednesday night and was at home recovering. Special teams coordinator Mike Priefer was the interim head coach.
"It was a little bit hard for me, because he's such a competitor," Priefer said. "That's why I love working for him."
Bradford was 7 of 7 on the final drive and finished with a 3-yard touchdown pass to running back Jerick McKinnon.
The Vikings forced two turnovers by the Cowboys but could only turn them into three points. Dallas had only one other game this season with two turnovers.
Kai Forbath connected on three field goals for Minnesota, which lost for the sixth time in seven games.
"We can't have all the mistakes," said Vikings defensive end Everson Griffen, who had a forced fumble and a fumble recovery. "We can't have all the fumbles, jumping offsides and all that, false starts. We just got to do our job better. That was self-inflicted. That's a game we should have won."
With the Vikings' regular punt returner, Marcus Sherels, out for the game due to a rib injury, Thielen was back to field a fourth-quarter punt. Thielen fumbled as he was being taken to the ground and looked to get his hands on the football again.
Dallas coach Jason Garrett challenged the play, and officials ruled that Wilber managed to pull the football away before Thielen controlled it, giving the Cowboys the ball at the 8-yard line. Bryant caught a quick receiver screen and beat cornerback Xavier Rhodes to the end zone for the touchdown that gave Dallas a 14-9 lead with 10:22 to play.
"Obviously, I didn't do my job well enough," Thielen said. "That's a critical situation. We talk about ball security all the time, and I feel like I let my teammates down and Coach Zimmer down."
Mistakes also hurt the Cowboys. A holding call wiped away a 43-yard run by Elliott in the first half, and then Lucky Whitehead fumbled after picking up a first down on an end-around. Whitehead was hit from behind by Griffen, and Eric Kendricks scooped up the fumble.
A hands-to-the-face penalty by Orlando Scandrick also negated an interception of Bradford.
Dallas' usual ball-control offense was stifled in the first half but needed just a couple of big plays to take over. On third-and-13, Prescott ran 14 yards for a first down. Four plays later, Prescott went deep to Bryant for a 56-yard reception. Bryant's move got him past safety Harrison Smith in zone coverage, and he was brought down at the 1-yard line. Elliott scored on the next play with 5:29 left in the second quarter.
NOTES: WR Stefon Diggs (knee) and CB Terence Newman (neck) each returned for Minnesota after missing last week's loss. The Vikings were without starting C Joe Berger (concussion) and PR Marcus Sherels (rib). ... Cowboys S Barry Church (forearm) returned after missing the previous four games. CB Morris Claiborne (groin) missed his fifth consecutive game. Dallas' defense was also without LB Justin Durant (hamstring) and S J.J. Wilcox (thigh). ... RB Ezekiel Elliott's 12th touchdown of the season tied him with Tony Dorsett for the most rushing touchdowns by a Cowboys rookie. ... Minnesota K Kai Forbath is 6 of 6 on field-goal attempts since replacing Blair Walsh. ... Dallas went two games without a turnover before WR Lucky Whitehead's fumble in the second quarter.