1. Cowboys’ fast starts slowed, but those penalties!
The Cowboys had scored on seven of 11 opening drives before punting after four snaps Thursday. Per Mike Zimmer’s request, the home crowd played its role, causing left tackle Tyron Smith to false start on the second play. Two snaps later, strong safety Andrew Sendejo executed a run blitz perfectly on second-and-8. He blew past receiver Vince Mayle and dropped Ezekiel Elliott for no gain, setting up an incompletion on third-and-long. The Cowboys went three-and-out on their second possession and turned the ball over on their third possession. But penalties once again ruined Vikings drives. The Vikings had three in the first 12 minutes — a false start on T.J. Clemmings (his first of two) and pass interference on Cordarrelle Patterson on the first possession, and the most costly one — a holding penalty on Alex Boone on a first-down run on third-and-1 at the Dallas 21 on the second possession. The Vikings settled for a field goal, but Dallas woke up and took a 7-3 lead on its fourth possession.
2. Bradford shows he’s one tough guy — again
For a guy who’s had a reputation of being fragile, Vikings quarterback Sam Bradford continues to show an impressive level of toughness. He missed the final two snaps of the first half after taking a hard helmet shot to the ribs and elbow from 305-pound Dallas defensive tackle Maliek Collins. But Bradford not only returned to start the second half, he took off running — fast, at least for a QB with a history of bad knees — on third-and-5. He wasn’t Dak Prescott or anything like that, but he did outrun a few defensive linemen before sliding for a 10-yard gain. Not bad for a guy who came into the game with 11 carries for minus-3 yards. It was his longest run in 22 games, going back to a 14-yard run with the Eagles vs. Washington in Week 4 of last season. The drive stalled, but that first down flipped field position in a one-score game. Dallas started its ensuing possession at its 9 and was forced to punt, setting up a Vikings field goal 10 plays later.
3. What happened to Locke?
Punter Jeff Locke came out of the Detroit game last week as the team’s most confident and consistent performer of late. He did OK with his first punt Thursday, hitting a 43-yarder that was fair caught at the Dallas 15. Two of the next three punts looked worse than one of those poor halftime shows where the guy who’s never punted takes a crack at it to win a prize. Locke’s third punt tumbled end over end and hit with the backspin of a pro golfer. His cover guys scrambled to down the ball at 16 yards. This came right after the Cowboys had taken a 7-3 lead and handed the ball back to Dallas at its 32. Locke ended the first half by hitting a similar-looking 25-yarder to the Dallas 49, but got off the hook because there were only 15 seconds left in the half. Locke hit a 38-yarder to the Dallas 9 in the third, but flailed a 33-yarder to the Dallas 46 in the fourth.
4. No RBs? Why not give it a try?
The Vikings came in ranking last in the league in rushing yards per game (71.1) and per carry (2.8). They’ve essentially scrapped their running game and replaced it with a short-passing attack that acts like a running game. So it’s no surprise they showed two snaps with no running backs on the field in their first possession. With four receivers and a tight end on the field, they had receiver Cordarrelle Patterson (above) lined up at running back.
5. Zimmer was ‘born to coach’
Count Cowboys owner Jerry Jones as a big fan and friend of Vikings coach Mike Zimmer, a Cowboys assistant from 1994 to 2006. “He was born to coach,” Jones said by phone Monday. “He’s a really good individual. I’ve always said you can gauge an individual by looking at his children. You can gauge Mike by the loyalty of his players. He’s got old-school tough in him, but I’ve seen top players like Deion Sanders and Terence Newman love the guy. Mike’s one of the most respected and loved coaches the Cowboys have had.” Zimmer was asked Tuesday for his favorite memory of Jones. “We were down in Austin at training camp,” Zimmer said. “I was riding with him in the car, and there was a homeless person there. Jerry reached out and gave him $100. I thought that was pretty cool. He treated everybody like family.”