When the Minnesota Vikings beat the Dallas Cowboys on Sunday, analysts attributed the outcome to a brutal rushing attack led by Dalvin Cook.
That, coupled with a stalwart front seven who thwarted the Cowboys’ inexplicable strategy to feed the ball to Ezekiel Elliott down the stretch, delivered the Vikings their seventh win, and the Cowboys their fourth loss.
However, a crucial confession from Dallas head coach Jason Garrett reveals just differently the outcome could have been if the Cowboys hadn’t flubbed at basic game management.
Midway through the second quarter, the Vikings began a drive at their own 10-yard line. Down 7-0, the Cowboys needed a stop to prevent the game from getting out of hand. Two first downs later, Kirk Cousins and crew were at their 42 and on the verge of entering Cowboys territory.
Cousins hit Dalvin Cook for a screen pass, and Cook – who would finish the game with 183 total yards – rumbled down the sideline to pick up 30 of them in one balletic chunk.
Adding insult to insult, a roughing the passer penalty tacked another 14 yards onto the drive, and six plays later tight end Kyle Rudolph caught his second touchdown of the day to put the Vikings up 14-0.
The replay of Cook’s 30-yard reception showcased the third-year running back’s brilliance, but it also exposed the Dallas coaching staff’s stupidity. The Cowboys only had 10 players on the field for this crucial play, a fact Jason Garrett owned up to in a Wednesday press conference.
“Yeah, didn’t do a good enough job getting our communication right, to have 11 out there,” he said, per NBC Sports. “Typically, [a timeout call] comes from the sidelines… We just weren’t on top of it fast enough to see that and process the whole thing and get it called.”
While the Cowboys would mount a comeback and even briefly take the lead in the second half, that Vikings drive haunted Dallas throughout the remainder of the contest.
More than just the seven points it gave Minnesota, the 13-play, 6-minute, 19-second drive proved that the Vikings and Dalvin Cook could impose their will on the Cowboys. That theme resurfaced in the third quarter when Minnesota marched 75 yards down the field, passing just twice and dialing up 10 straight running plays during the game-sealing 6-minute, 59-second drive.
How might the game have gone differently if the Cowboys had put all 11 men on the field for that play? What if Garrett, a member of his coaching staff, or even one of the other 10 Cowboys defenders had called a timeout after recognizing that one Vikings player was missing a dance partner?
Maybe nothing changes. After all, that pivotal play came on first down, not third-and-long. Maybe Cousins floats the screen to Cook, who darts 30 yards anyway. Maybe Cowboys defensive end Robert Quinn still gets called for a roughing the passer penalty that propels Minnesota into the red zone. Maybe the Cowboys still fail to keep the Vikings from scoring.
The thing is, we’ll never know. However, the greatest irony is that all of this speculation could have been moot if not for another costly Cowboys coaching mistake, this one in the game’s closing seconds.
Clinging to a four-point lead with 24 seconds left in the fourth quarter, the Vikings punted from their own 10-yard line. In an eerie parallel to the previous week’s loss against the Kansas City Chiefs, Britton Colquitt’s punt failed to cross midfield, giving the Cowboys the chance to become the second straight team to mount a game-winning drive against the Vikings on a short field.
Even more fortuitous, despite the relatively short punt, returner Tavon Austin fielded the ball with nary a Viking in sight. He could have easily returned the ball at least 10 or 15 yards, presenting a red-hot Dak Prescott with the opportunity to make a play or two and take at least one high-percentage shot at the end zone.
Instead, Austin called for a fair catch, and Prescott tarnished his otherwise-impeccable stat line with a Hail Mary interception to end the game.
Garrett – whose pants might be a few degrees hotter than they were just last week – would later admit that Austin followed instructions; the coaching staff just failed to communicate the right ones.