1 Helmet-to-helmet on Cousins strip?
Mike McCarthy won his first coach's challenge as first-year leader of the Dallas Cowboys. It came with 10:57 left in the first quarter of Sunday's 31-28 victory over the Vikings at U.S. Bank Stadium. And, unfortunately for the Vikings, it led to several replays of a double-whammy of not one but two missed calls that went against them. Dallas safety Donovan Wilson did indeed steal the ball from Kirk Cousins on a sack he shared with DeMarcus Lawrence. But what wasn't reviewable was Wilson's helmet-to-helmet hit on Cousins that was missed by referee Bill Vinovich. Asked if he thought it should have been called, Vikings coach Mike Zimmer said, "Yes. And I also thought the [personal foul] on Harrison Smith [later in the game] was clean. There was a lot of those things, but that's not why we lost." Dallas used McCarthy's successful challenge to score a touchdown and take a 6-0 lead.
2. Holmes doesn't set edge on long TD
Rushing the passer isn't the only area in which Danielle Hunter's season-ending neck injury has impacted the Vikings defense. That came to mind with 12:02 left in the game when left defensive end Jalyn Holmes failed to set the end on Tony Pollard's 42-yard touchdown run. Tight end Dalton Schultz doubled down on Holmes, easily collapsing the edge and giving Pollard all the room he needed for the longest run by a Cowboys player this season. "[Pollard] was just hopping around being super patient, not really moving," linebacker Eric Kendricks said. "They were staying on the double teams hard. You try to be aggressive, but he just out-patiented us on that one." The Vikings didn't allow a run longer than 9yards until Ezekiel Elliott broke a 15-yarder two snaps before Pollard's long touchdown. The Vikings gave up a season-high 180 yards rushing on 31 carries (5.8).
3. Cowboys weren't taken lightly
The game had just ended when Kendricks said he heard people saying the Vikings were overconfident. "We came to play," he said. "We didn't overlook them or nothing like that." Believe him. First of all, even the Vikings know they aren't good enough to overlook anyone. Secondly, even with seven losses, the Cowboys reside in the pitiful NFC Least. Philadelphia leads the way at 3-6-1. The other three NFC East teams — Dallas, the New York Giants and Washington — are 3-7. McCarthy is still getting to know his new team during this COVID-19-marred year. Sunday's star player was Donovan Wilson, the safety who forced both fumbles that led to nine points off takeaways. Wilson didn't play a single defensive snap the first three games. When Darian Thompson got benched in Week 4, Wilson stepped in and has been a wrecking ball. He also had nine tackles, the half-sack and a fumble recovery.
4. Where was Irv Smith Jr. at end?
The Vikings lamented their eight penalties for 80 yards as too much to overcome. But they did overcome one of their earliest penalties — a chop block by left guard Dakota Dozier — with back-to-back passes to tight end Irv Smith Jr., who was making his return from a groin injury. The Cowboys led 6-0 when Dozier's penalty resulted in a second-and-22 from the Dallas 41. No problem. Smith shook free for a 12-yard catch and then an 11-yarder on third-and-10. The Vikings went on to take a 7-6 lead on a 1-yard run by Dalvin Cook. Smith wasn't targeted again in the passing game. Granted, the passing game was in good hands. But the final three plays were forced throws that fell incomplete — one to Justin Jefferson and two to Adam Thielen — in a meek comeback attempt. Maybe Smith working the middle could have extended the drive.
5. Cowboys account for Kendricks
McCarthy, the former Super Bowl-winning coach of the Packers, obviously has a healthy respect for Kendricks. Dallas' first touchdown was a nice little bubble screen designed to get Elliott the ball in the right flat while creating too much traffic for Kendricks to do what he does — "See ball, get ball." On first-and-goal from the 6-yard line, the Cowboys lined Elliott and tight ends Blake Bell and Schultz in a bunch formation to the right. At the snap, Elliott took a step back and received the ball cleanly. As Bell and Schultz were clearing the way, Kendricks had too many bodies to fight through to get over in time to make the tackle. Kendricks did, however, make a diving interception over the middle later in the game. And he almost had another one after that. "I wish I would have had the second one," he said. "I'm going to think about that all night."