Cowboys’ defense makes a stand this time

Posted Sunday, Nov. 03, 2013  comments  Print Reprints

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The NFL’s worst defense had been in this situation before. The Dallas Cowboys were nursing a lead and having to keep their foe out of the end zone in the game’s final minute.

They couldn’t do it against Detroit.

They did against Minnesota.

Not only did Dallas hold on to beat the Vikings 27-23 Sunday afternoon, the win jump-starts the second half of the season and gives the much-maligned Cowboys defense a much-needed shot in the arm.

“We learned that we have to trust in the system that we have,” safety Barry Church said. “We did that today and we played sound defense for the most part, and we got the ‘W.’”

No one at AT&T Stadium had to be reminded of the circumstances in last week’s devastating 31-30 loss to the Lions. Minnesota didn’t have quite as much time on the clock for its final drive as Detroit did, but the Vikings started at their own 42-yard line with 29 seconds left and three timeouts remaining.

Christian Ponder threw an incomplete pass on first down and was sacked on second. Facing a third-and-17, the Vikings picked up a first down, but their final play, a desperation heave from Ponder, fell harmlessly short of the end zone.

“In our minds we had to get a stop,” defensive end George Selvie said. “The whole defense, everybody, was on the same page. We had to get a stop, and that’s what we did.”

Minnesota’s offense won’t be confused with Denver’s anytime soon, but the Vikings did slice through the Cowboys at times and finished with 393 yards.

Adrian Peterson racked up 140 yards and carried four Cowboys over the goal line for Minnesota’s go-ahead score in the fourth. Ponder matched his season high with 236 yards passing.

But the Dallas defense also made plays. Orlando Scandrick picked off Ponder early in the fourth with the Cowboys clinging to a three-point lead.

The defense forced a three-and-out later in the quarter to set up the Cowboys’ 90-yard, game-winning drive. Sean Lee stuffed Peterson on fourth-and-1 from the Dallas 16 early in the second quarter.

Selvie assisted on the defense’s biggest play of the game early in the third to give the Cowboys a 20-10 advantage. He stripped Ponder of the ball in the Minnesota end zone, and Nick Hayden fell on it for a touchdown.

“I give all the credit to George on that play,” Hayden said. “He was the one that got the strip-sack-fumble. I was just lucky enough to be there at the right time and scoop it up for him. It was a whole d-line effort.”

The trick for the Cowboys is building on that effort going into New Orleans, and they know it.

“It depends on how we take it and how we learn from it and just how we keep rolling,” defensive tackle Jason Hatcher said. “I’m looking forward to see how we learn from it. It was a great win. It showed us that we were resilient and we never gave up.”

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