In my opinion, these plays were the most crucial to the success of the Cowboys in this game, contributing greatly to the win.
1. EARLY THIRD QUARTER, 11:36 LEFT, 1ST AND 10 FROM THE VIKINGS 5 YARD LINE – The Cowboys had just finally reached the end zone to take a 13-10 lead. After a muffed kickoff return that put the Vikings on their own five yard, Dallas wasted no time in taking advantage of the miscue. On first down, Vikings quarterback Christian Ponder drops back to pass and gets stripped as he is ready to throw from his own end zone by George Selvie. Almost immediately after that, Jarius Wynn blows Ponder up keeping him from any chance at recovery. Fellow lineman Nick Hayden completes the play by recovering the ball for a touchdown and just like that, the Cowboys score two touchdowns in 24 seconds and go from down 10-6 to up 20-10.
2. EARLY FOURTH QUARTER, 10:57 LEFT, 2ND AND 18 FROM THE VIKINGS 46 YARD LINE – Following a highly-questionable offensive pass interference penalty on Jason Witten that put the Cowboys in a 1st and 20 situation, Romo delivers an absolute strike on a deep in route to Dez Bryant who is running in stride, however Dez drops the pass and a huge opportunity to close the Vikings out. Instead of a guaranteed three points and possibly seven since Dez may have taken it all the way, the Cowboys are forced to punt, clinging to a three point lead that is soon to vanish.
3. LATE FOURTH QUARTER, 8:48 LEFT, 1ST AND 10 FROM THE VIKINGS 28 YARD LINE - After the drive that featured Dez’s dropped pass, the Vikings have the ball and start the drive that will put them ahead. Already with a first down on the drive, Adrian Peterson takes over. Busting a 52 yard run on first down, he changes field position taking the ball from their 28 to the Cowboys 20. This sets up…
4. LATE FOURTH QUARTER, 5:49 LEFT, 4TH AND 1 FROM THE COWBOYS 11 YARD LINE - Now in a situation where they are to choose between tying the game or playing with house money, the Vikings choose option B and it pays big time. Peterson on a fourth and one breaks through the line and is met by Cowboys safety Jeff Heath who momentarily stymies Peterson. Somehow, he is able to fight through the tackle attempt and get to the end zone where he met once more by two Cowboys who are unable to stop him. Touchdown Vikings and more importantly, goodbye to the lead late in the game. Almost as inexplicable as the failure to stop Peterson was, Vikings kicker Blair Walsh misses the extra point erasing the Cowboys need for a touchdown to answer, making the score 23-20.
5. MID FOURTH QUARTER, 7:14 LEFT, 3RD AND 6 FROM THE DALLAS 37 YARD LINE – Time is running out on the Cowboys, who have found themselves in a position to win thanks to key plays on the drive by Cole Beasley and Dez Bryant. As Romo drops back to pass, he has Dwayne Harris in the slot, one-on-one with his defender. Harris makes a move to the inside and Romo again delivers a perfect ball which is caught. Harris makes it to the end zone as defenders are on the verge of stopping him. Touchdown Cowboys and more importantly, PHEW! COWBOYS WIN!
You can walk away from this game with a few different types of perspective. If you choose, you are welcome to lament the failures of this offense, once again, against a weak defense. You are certainly well within your right to be bothered and frustrated by not only the lack of rushing success, but the outright almost disdain to even continue to try. I would say however that even though it would have been nice to come in and get the “expected” result of a blow out, you should choose to be happy with the win, regardless of how nerve-racking it came to be. In back to back weeks, the Seahawks, who everyone believes will contend for the Lombardi Trophy had to sweat out wins over St. Louis and Tampa Bay facing backup quarterbacks AND running backs. At the end of the day, Dallas did just enough to win the game which as Cowboys’ fans know all to well is the opposite of things usually go.