Sometimes when it’s your year and destiny is seemingly on your side, things fall your way even if it appears all is about lost.
Consider the Dallas Cowboys on Thursday night at U.S. Bank Stadium. The mojo that had been fueling their rise all season was sputtering.
Dueling rookie of year candidates in quarterback Dak Prescott and running back Ezekiel Elliott were all but shut down by the Minnesota Vikings and boisterous crowd.
Turnovers and miscues abounded.
But just when you thought Cowboys’ luck had run out and their streak was about to end, the improbable happened.
A Cowboys team that hadn’t forced a turnover since Halloween, a span of four games, got a forced fumble when linebacker Kyle Wilber knocked the ball loose from Adam Thielen.
Prescott tossed an 8-yard touchdown pass to receiver Dez Bryant on the next play, sparking the Cowboys to a 17-15 victory, while extending their team-record winning streak to 11 games.
“It’s really good we can come up with a takeaway,” Wilber said. “Coach Garrett asked me did you get it out. I said I got it out, but I didn’t know if his knee went down first.”
The win ended a string of three games in 12 days, starting with the Baltimore Ravens and Washington Redskins on Thanksgiving. The Cowboys have 10 days off before playing at the New York Giants on Dec. 11.
“I thought our defense did a fantastic job keeping the score down,” Cowboys coach Jason Garrett said.
A 33-yard field goal by Dan Bailey made it 17-9.
The Cowboys had a chance to ice the game, but a slide by Prescott came up inches short of the first down and then Elliott was knocked for a loss, giving the ball back to the Vikings with 2:09 left in the game.
Quarterback Sam Bradford, who left the game in the second quarter but returned after halftime, then led the Vikings 65 yards on eight plays.
A 3-yard touchdown pass to Jerick McKinnon narrowed the score to 17-15 with 25 seconds left.
But the 2-point pass was high, allowing the Cowboys to survive.
“It was a hard-fought battle,” Garrett said. “It wasn’t our prettiest performance on offense.”
It’s fitting considering the Cowboys have not allowed a 2-point conversion in six tries against them this season.
The Cowboys recorded a season low in points, yards and passing yards. They lost the battle of time of possession. They were one of nine on third downs. They had 10 penalties for 78 yards. They had four fumbles, losing two.
Yet, the Cowboys are still streaking.
The Cowboys (11-1) still have the best record in the NFL and can clinch at least a wild-card playoff berth this weekend with a loss by the Washington Redskins or a loss or tie by the Tampa Buccaneers.
“It’s pretty cool, but we’ve got to keep on fighting,” receiver Dez Bryant said. “The plan is way much bigger than being 11-1. It’s pretty cool situation, but there is more ball left and we have to stay grounded because 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 on fighting and we’re just going to keep hoping for the best.”
Speaking of destiny?
The victory snapped a five-game losing streak in Minnesota.
The Cowboys’ last road win in the series was in 1995, the last year of the three Super Bowl titles in the 1990s.
Getting there won’t be easy, just like getting a win Thursday night wasn’t.
In addition to struggling on offense because of bad field position and bad play, they seemingly did everything they could to lose the game with a host of turnovers and penalties, allowing the Vikings to take a 9-7 lead in the third quarter.
A holding penalty on tackle Doug Free wiped out a 42-yard gain from Elliott. A hands to the face penalty on cornerback Orlando Scandrick nullified a potential game-turning interception from Anthony Hitchens.
A clipping penalty on tight end Gavin Escobar set up a drive-killing third-and-29.
Receiver Lucky Whitehead killed a Cowboys drive with fumble on a reverse.
And even Elliott had a fumble earlier in the game that was given back to the Cowboys after a review by the officials that he recovered the ball.
The team’s much-maligned defense kept the Cowboys in the game as it continued to hold the Vikings to field goals.
Down 7-3 at halftime, the Vikings got a 36-yard field in the third quarter and a 33-yarder early in the fourth from Kai Forbath.
The latter came after a first down run by Elliott was called back because of a holding call on Escobar. Free then gave up a sack to defensive Brian Robison, who forced a fumble from Prescott.
But the defense held the Vikings to a field goal.
And even when the Cowboys seemingly set themselves up to go ahead midway through the fourth, they bit themselves again.
A first down pass to tight end Jason Witten was called back because of a holding penalty on Elliott.
The ensuing punt resulted in the huge play by Wilber.
The returner was initially ruled down, but Garrett challenged the call and it was reversed on replay.
It was the second turnover reversed by replay in favor of the Cowboys and it proved quite ominous.
Prescott tossed a hitch pass to Bryant on the next play. He outran the defenders to the end zone.
Prescott completed 12 of 18 passes for a season-low 139 yards and a touchdown.
Elliott rushed 20 times for 86 yards and a touchdown. He now has 12 rushing touchdowns in the season to tie Tony Dorsett’s rookie record set in 1977.
The Cowboys’ offense totaled a season-low 264 yards and the Vikings controlled ball for 33:17 of the game.
Yet, the Cowboys survived and they are still streaking.
Credit Wilbur’s forced fumble. Credit the defense, which recorded three sacks for coming up with timely plays and keeping the Vikings out of the end zone for much of the night. And then not giving up on the 2-point after they allowed the late touchdown.
“You’ve got to fight,” Garrett said. “You’ve got to battle. It’s the foundation of what we do. It was not our prettiest game. Different people stepped up. Different units stepped up. Special teams and defense were outstanding in critical moments. Offense did what it needed to do at critical times. It was a great team win for us.”
Perhaps no one had a better perspective on the Cowboys’ ability to win and survive more than Bryant and Witten.
Bryant’s touchdown catch was the 65th of his career, tying Hall of Famer Michael Irvin for second most in Cowboys history.
But, as he told Irvin after the game, the record means nothing to him as the Cowboys have bigger goals in mind.
“He talked about the record and he talked about our previous conversations in the offseason, talking about the squad and stuff like that,” Bryant said of Irvin. “He was excited about the touchdown record. Like I told him, that’s not what’s important right now. Our goal is way much more bigger than that. We’re dealing with something that’s way much more bigger than records and all that kind of stuff. We’re a football team and that’s the most beautiful thing that we got. We stick with one another throughout the good and the bad and y’all witnessed that tonight and those are the type of things that we care about is pulling out victories like this.”
Interestingly enough, Witten didn’t have a catch against the Vikings. It snapped a streak of 130 games with a catch dating back to the 2008. It was the longest streak in Cowboys history and the fourth-longest active streak in the NFL.
Most imporant to Witten Thursday was him catching the on sides kick attempt by the Vikings after their failed 2-point conversion, allowing the Cowboys to kneel on the ball to end of the game.
“Those records really don’t mean anything,” Witten said. “I still have a lot of confidence in my ability and feel I can play at a high level. A big part of that is making catches. It’s just one of those games. Those things happen. You go through it. It’s not on one particular situation. That’s just the way the game went. I’m thankful and excited to be 11-1, much more than having a catch. That’s a big win for our team to get 11 in a row. You just continue to grind it out and find a way.”
The Cowboys have been finding a way all season. That’s been their real mojo.
Cowboys 17, Vikings 15
Min—FG Forbath 48, 2:28. Drive: 6 plays, 32 yards, 3:17. Key Plays: Bradford 17 pass to Rudolph; Bradford 16 pass to Thielen; A.Boone 10-yard offensive holding penalty on 3rd-and-1; Line 4 run on 3rd-and-1. Minnesota 3, Dallas 0.
Dal—Elliott 1 run (Bailey kick), 5:29. Drive: 8 plays, 84 yards, 5:12. Key Plays: Prescott 14 run; Prescott 13 pass to Beasley; Prescott 56 pass to Bryant. Dallas 7, Minnesota 3.
Min—FG Forbath 36, 2:10. Drive: 10 plays, 49 yards, 4:52. Key Plays: Bradford 10 pass to Diggs; Bradford 8 pass to Rudolph on 3rd-and-1; Asiata 14 run. Dallas 7, Minnesota 6.
Min—FG Forbath 33, 14:11. Drive: 4 plays, 4 yards, 00:56. Minnesota 9, Dallas 7.
Dal—Bryant 8 pass from Prescott (Bailey kick), 10:22. Drive: 1 plays, 8 yards, 00:06. Dallas 14, Minnesota 9.
Dal—FG Bailey 39, 4:15. Drive: 5 plays, 33 yards, 2:22. Key Play: Elliott 30 run. Dallas 17, Minnesota 9.
Min—McKinnon 3 pass from Bradford (pass failed), :25. Drive: 8 plays, 65 yards, 1:44. Key Plays: Bradford 18 pass to Thielen; Bradford 15 pass to Diggs. Dallas 17, Minnesota 15.
THIRD DOWN EFF
FOURTH DOWN EFF
TOTAL NET YARDS
NET YARDS RUSHING
Avg per rush
NET YARDS PASSING
TOTAL RETURN YARDAGE
TIME OF POSSESSION
RUSHING—Dallas, Elliott 20-86, Prescott 6-37, Morris 1-11, Whitehead 1-6. Minnesota, McKinnon 9-41, Asiata 6-30, Bradford 2-10, Patterson 2-6.
PASSING—Dallas, Prescott 12-18-0-139. Minnesota, Bradford 32-45-0-247, McKinnon 0-1-0-0, Hill 1-1-0-6.
RECEIVING—Dallas, Bryant 4-84, Elliott 4-19, Beasley 2-23, Williams 2-13. Minnesota, Diggs 8-59, Thielen 7-86, Rudolph 6-45, McKinnon 5-14, Johnson 3-36, Patterson 2-10, Ellison 1-6, Asiata 1-(minus 3).
PUNT RETURNS—Dallas, Whitehead 2-1. Minnesota, Thielen 2-(minus 5), Patterson 1-0.
KICKOFF RETURNS—Dallas, Whitehead 1-22, Dunbar 1-16. Minnesota, Patterson 3-80, Asiata 1-11.
TACKLES-ASSISTS-SACKS—Dallas, Church 7-2-0, Jones 7-1-0, Hitchens 6-4-1, Carr 6-2-0, Scandrick 6-1-0, Lee 6-1-0, Brown 3-1-0, Wilson 2-0-0, Collins 1-1-1, Mayowa 1-1-1, Crawford 1-0-0. Minnesota, Griffen 8-0-0, Kendricks 4-2-0, Smith 4-1-0, Hunter 3-3-2, Sendejo 3-0-0, Munnerlyn 2-2-0, Greenway 2-1-0, Rhodes 2-0-0, Joseph 1-2-0, Barr 1-2-0, Robison 1-1-1, Johnson 1-0-0, Newman 1-0-0, Stephen 0-2-0.