Vikings vs. Cowboys: Takeaways from Dallas' 27-23 Win over Minnesota
The Dallas Cowboys earned an ugly 27-23 victory over the lowly Minnesota Vikings at home in Week 9. The win counts as much as any other, but there was little for the Cowboys faithful to get excited about in this one.
Despite Adrian Peterson coming alive in the fourth quarter and a late interception by Tony Romo, the Cowboys put together a game-winning final drive. This contest had its fair share of good and bad aspects for the 'Boys.
Here are eight takeaways for Dallas in its fifth win of the season.
All statistics were retrieved from NFL.com unless otherwise noted.
Coaching Staff Ignored DeMarco Murray
DeMarco Murray returned to the gridiron after missing the last two games with an injury. Dallas offensive coordinator Bill Callahan rewarded Murray's comeback with just four carries in the game.
Considering Callahan dialed up 51 passing plays for quarterback Tony Romo, it's clear there was little effort to get the running game going. Backup rushers Joseph Randle and Lance Dunbar had just one and three touches, respectively.
The lack of balance has been a problem for the Cowboys coaching staff all season long. The last few games without Murray have been tough on the ground. With Murray back in the fold for Week 9, however, it's hard to understand why he wasn't utilized more.
Dallas has to find a way to get Murray involved going forward, especially considering he should be close to full health by Week 10.
Defense Contained Adrian Peterson
Adrian Peterson did tally 140 yards against the Dallas defense, but it took him 25 carries (one for 52 yards) to get there. Up until the fourth quarter, arguably the NFL's best running back had just more than 70 yards on double-digit carries.
"AP" is the first rusher to gain more than 100 yards on the Cowboys' No. 32-ranked defense all season. After the 600-plus yards the Detroit Lions posted against Monte Kiffin's defense in Week 8, he has to be happy with Peterson's struggles until late in the game.
The Cowboys couldn't let Peterson get free in this game if they wanted to pull out this victory. Outside of the drive when he carried Dallas players into the end zone, there was little AP could do for his team.
Kiffin and his defense stopped one of the best rushers in the league for much of this contest without Anthony Spencer and DeMarcus Ware. Give credit where credit is due.
Offense Lacked Rhythm
From Terrance Williams' dropped passes to Dez Bryant's outbursts, the Dallas offense was not playing to its full potential.
Tony Romo threw just two touchdowns in 51 passing attempts. He did tally more than 300 yards, but that's kind of easy when you drop back so many times.
Aside from their first drive in the third quarter, the Cowboys just couldn't get into fifth gear in this one. Williams, Bryant and Jason Witten all had some costly drops throughout the game, and Romo threw a late interception in the fourth quarter.
It seemed like for every big pass to Witten or James Hanna, the next play would result in a sack or incomplete pass. The Vikings sacked Romo three times for a combined 23 yards on the day.
The Cowboys put the offense together late when the game was on the line but seemed stagnant during almost all of the game.
Cowboys Started 2nd Half on High Note
The Cowboys looked like they were ready to give their fans the blowout many were expecting once the third quarter began. Dallas put together a six-play, 74-yard drive that ate up more than three minutes of the second half.
On the defense's first time out after halftime, George Selvie stripped the ball out of Christian Ponder's hands in the Vikings' end zone. The play resulted in a defensive touchdown for Dallas.
The Cowboys went back to being inconsistent on offense going forward, but the defense seemed much stingier once the second half started. Despite a 10-6 lead after the first two quarters, the Vikings found themselves down 20-10 early into the third quarter.
Dallas took the Vikings' early momentum and completely extinguished it once the second half began. Many might forget about those first two series in the third, but they were key in this win for the 'Boys.
Christian Ponder Was Too Effective Early
Christian Ponder had two effective scrambles for the Vikings in the first half, both for over 10 yards. One earned a first down, the other a touchdown.
There's no other way around it; Ponder looked crisp early in this game. He was confusing the Dallas defense with play action and threw some great passes to receivers like Greg Jennings.
While Ponder had much less success once the second half began, the Vikings shouldn't have gone into halftime with the lead. This is a 1-7 team that lost to the New York Giants and Carolina Panthers by a combined score of 58-17 in Weeks 6 and 7.
With all the issues Minnesota has had at quarterback this year, it had to be concerning to Monte Kiffin to see Ponder succeed early on. Luckily for the Tampa 2 creator, his defense was able to clamp down and fluster the Vikings QB later in the contest.
If Ponder had been able to stay comfortable for all four quarters, his team could have easily left AT&T Stadium with a victory.
Dez Bryant Came Up Big When He Was Needed
Before the Cowboys' last drive of the game, Dez Bryant had just five receptions for 30 yards. He didn't explode for big numbers in this one, but his 34-yard catch-and-run into Minnesota territory was enough.
The Cowboys knew that they needed to get a touchdown on their final drive, and sure enough, Tony Romo looked to No. 88 on a crucial play. Bryant rewarded his quarterback with a reception that moved Dallas onto the doorsteps of the Vikings end zone.
It wasn't a picture-perfect day on the field for Bryant, but he came through in the clutch for his team. His outbursts in this game will be discussed. Those discussions must include the fact that he put his team in prime position to win in crunch time.
There is no doubting the talent that Bryant possesses, and he showed just how passionate he is about winning on that run after making his final catch of the game.
Cowboys Struggled with Penalty Woes
Despite getting off on the right side of the penalty flags, Dallas ended up tallying five fouls for 45 yards against the Vikings.
Jason Witten had an offensive pass-interference call. Dez Bryant was also called for one and for taking off his helmet on the field. Of course being the Cowboys, the offensive line also added a few holding calls to the cause as well.
The struggle with penalties is one that the Cowboys have had before the Jason Garrett era, and it hasn't gone away under his tutelage. If Dallas had been playing a team like the Seattle Seahawks or Green Bay Packers, those penalty yards would have hurt a whole lot more.
Garrett needs to pull his players by the ears a little this week and make sure Week 10 does not bring as many yellow flags as Week 9 did.
A Win Is a Win
There were few high points for the Cowboys after a surprisingly close game at home against Minnesota. Still, this win will count just as much as the 'Boys' blowout win against the St. Louis Rams several weeks back.
The Cowboys are above .500 and learned another lesson in the valuable art of winning a close game. After late and devastating losses to the Denver Broncos and Detroit earlier this season, the Cowboys have to be happy to be on the positive side of a game-winning drive.
Even after throwing a fourth-quarter interception, Tony Romo came right back and brought his team down the field. Dallas marched 90 yards in nine plays to set up Dwayne Harris' game-winning reception.
The defense was also able to prevent the Vikings from answering Dallas' late score when they took over on offense with less than a minute to play. Minnesota may not be as good a football team as the Lions or Broncos, but the defense was able to hold on to the offense's lead late.
Not ever victory is going to be one for the highlight reel. There are plenty of aspects of its game Dallas needs to perfect still. Even so, the Cowboys avoided adding another late-game loss to their 2013 season and moved to 5-4.
It could have been—and probably should have been—a lot prettier, but Dallas was able to win a game it should have won. The victory will surely come in handy as the postseason creeps closer.
Alex Hall is a Dallas Cowboys Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter @AlexKHall.