There was way, way, waaaay too much cheering for Kai Forbath’s 33-yard field goal attempt that ricocheted off the right upright and over the crossbar for a 9-7 Vikings lead with 14 minutes, 11 seconds left in the fourth quarter of Thursday night’s game against the Cowboys at U.S. Bank Stadium.
It was the Vikings’ first lead after they opened scoring with a field goal. It’s also where they lost the game that would finish with the Cowboys’ 11th straight win, 17-15.
A four-play, 4-yard “drive” ruined what should have been defensive end Brian Robison’s shining, season-saving moments. One of the oldest players on the field, Robison willed the Vikings’ offense the ball on back-to-back plays in the closing seconds of the third quarter.
He overwhelmed tight end Gavin Escobar, who was called for holding. Then, on first-and-20, Robison beat right tackle Doug Free badly, turned the corner and swatted the ball out of rookie quarterback Dak Prescott’s hand. Defensive end Everson Griffen fell on the ball at the Dallas 19.
And how did the offense repay this stadium-shaking, tide-turning series of events?
Snap 1: Left tackle T.J. Clemmings false-started. For the second time in the game. Yes, at home, although Cowboys fans were well-represented.
His first false start came on the opening drive and was one of two penalties to kill that possession. That drive came after the Vikings forced the Cowboys to punt after only four snaps, a rarity for a team that had scored on seven of 11 game-opening possessions while posting 10 consecutive wins in a league-best 10-1 start.
The second false start derailed momentum from Robison’s strip sack.
“It is what it is; I can’t control any of the stuff that happens on the other side of the ball,” Robison said. “All I can do when I’m on the field is go play ball. We put three points on the board. We needed to put seven up.”
Robison wasn’t upset with the offense. But he sure was upset with the officials. Even though they penalized Dallas 10 times for 78 yards, it wasn’t enough for Robison, who singled out a facemask on quarterback Sam Bradford that wasn’t called on the two-point conversion attempt that would have tied the score in the closing seconds.
“I’m just going to say it right now: I’m sick and tired of the reffing in the league right now,” Robison said. “I’m sick and tired of it. You got holding calls all over the place that people don’t want to call. Bradford gets hit in the face at the end of the game and you don’t call it. I’m not laying this loss on reffing, but at some point it’s got to get better. The problem is the costly penalties that don’t get called.”
The Vikings’ defense played its best game in a month. Dallas had only 264 yards of offense, converted just one of nine third-down situations and had an 8-yard, six-second touchdown drive set up by Adam Thielen’s fumbled punt in the fourth quarter.
NFL rushing leader Ezekiel Elliott had 86 yards on 20 carries (4.3). He had a 12-yarder on the first snap and a 30-yarder late in the game. His other 18 carries averaged 2.4 yards.
But, once again, ill-timed penalties were a problem. A third false start came on right tackle Jeremiah Sirles on the two-point conversion attempt, pushing the ball back to the 7.
But, despite all the cheering for a field goal, nothing was more deflating that the four snaps that came after Robison’s strip sack.
“[The sack] was a momentum changer,” Robison said. “Once again, it came back to sometimes we shoot ourselves in the foot. We got three points, but we got to be able to capitalize there.”
The offense didn’t. Then the special teams handed Dallas the ball at the Vikings 8-yard line. And, well, nothing was quite good enough after Forbath gave the Vikings a two-point lead that needed to be a six-point lead given the gift Robison handed over.
Mark Craig is an NFL and Vikings writer. Twitter: @MarkCraigNFL E-mail: email@example.com