IRVING, TEXAS - They are a boxer with an arm tied behind his back, a basketball player facing an 11-foot rim. They are a sailor with no compass. The Vikings entered Texas Stadium needing a near-perfect game Sunday to upset the NFC's top team, and yet they trotted out a quarterback who demonstrated conclusively that he is not yet up to the task.
The Vikings largely blamed a blocked field goal and an untimely fumble for a 24-14 loss to the Dallas Cowboys. But after quarterback Tarvaris Jackson turned in another statistical mess of incompletions, panicked throws and -- a new one -- sideline altercations with the head coach, it was fair to ask if his ongoing development doomed them from the start.
Against a defense daring him to pass, Jackson completed six of 19 throws for 72 yards -- bringing his two-game totals to 15 completions in 42 passes since his return from a strained groin. Sunday, Jackson was sacked three times, narrowly avoided a safety on a grounding penalty and had a nationally televised confrontation with coach Brad Childress in the first quarter.
Asked afterward about Jackson's performance, Childress said, "You're not going to win many games throwing for  yards." While reserving final judgment until he watched film, Childress made it clear he expected more.
"There's got to be that extreme urgency," Childress said, "of knowing what your situation is, knowing where the ball needs to go, getting it out of our hand, having the clock running in your head, all the things good quarterbacks do in this league."
Affable and earnest, Jackson acknowledged he is frustrated but added: "My job is to stay cool."
Childress certainly did not fit that description after the Vikings' second series, which began with Jackson overthrowing receiver Troy Williamson on a deep route down the right sideline. The Vikings punted three plays later, and on the sideline Childress headed immediately for Jackson.
According to Jackson, Childress brought up the errant pass to Williamson -- which, Jackson said, went long because a Cowboys defender was in position to intercept if he threw shorter. Jackson responded demonstrably to Childress' criticism before walking away, and Childress chased him briefly before turning back toward the game.
Jackson called it a "normal discussion" while Childress characterized it as an "extended talk."Just letting him feel my emotions in terms of what you need to be doing on the football field," Childress added.
The Vikings had tied the score at 7-7 on their first series, capped by a 20-yard touchdown run from rookie Adrian Peterson. But that second series began a stretch of four consecutive three-and-outs that lasted until midway through the third quarter.
Nevertheless, they held an improbable 14-7 halftime lead courtesy of a 28-yard fumble return by cornerback Cedric Griffin. The Vikings stood to take a 17-14 lead with 4 minutes, 22 seconds remaining in the third quarter as Ryan Longwell lined up for a 48-yard field-goal attempt.
But Cowboys lineman Chris Canty burst through the middle to block the kick, and cornerback Patrick Watkins returned it 68 yards for a touchdown.
Peterson's fumble two series later put the Cowboys in position for Nick Folk's 45-yard field goal with 10:34 left in the game.
"We gave them 10 points," Childress said. "We gave them three off Adrian's fumble and seven off the blocked field goal. That ends up being the difference."
That theory, however, assumes that the Vikings defense -- on the field for 36 minutes, 35 seconds of the game -- would have been able to hold a three-point lead against a Dallas offense that, as cornerback Antoine Winfield put it, "dinked and dunked us down the field all day."
Indeed, quarterback Tony Romo completed 31 of 39 passes for 277 yards, finding tight end Jason Witten 10 times and receiver Terrell Owens seven times. The theory assumes that the Vikings offense would have been able to protect the lead against a defense stacked to stop tailbacks Peterson and Chester Taylor.
However, Jackson had already ended one series in the second quarter with a wide throw to receiver Robert Ferguson on third down. He ended another by throwing a pass at the feet of Williamson.
Jackson also couldn't connect with an open Bobby Wade on the play before the blocked field goal.