1. The Vikings defensive front rose to the occasion against the NFL’s best offensive line. After hearing Mike Zimmer declare this week that the Cowboys had the best offensive line he’s seen in a long time, the guys up front brought their “A” game against the Cowboys. Sure, they let quarterback Dak Prescott wiggle free a few times. And yeah, Ezekiel Elliott popped a few big runs, including that late 30-yarder. But the Vikings, in a losing effort, reminded everyone that they still have one of the NFL’s best defensive lines. Danielle Hunter had two sacks and fellow defensive end Brian Robison gave the Vikings three points by stripping Prescott in the fourth quarter. Nose tackle Linval Joseph was immovable in the “A” gaps. And middle linebacker Eric Kendricks’ poofy hair was spotted on nearly every play. Whenever Zimmer can watch this game tape, he surely will be proud.
2. Special teams, specifically punter Jeff Locke, really let the Vikings down. Ironically, the most troublesome area in Priefer’s first game as an NFL head coach was the area he typically oversees. Locke, who punted well enough in Detroit to convince me to argue in this space a week ago that he should be considered for the Pro Bowl, inexplicably shanked a trio of punts, including a 33-yarder in the fourth quarter that helped put the Cowboys in position for the kick that made it 17-9. Then, of course, there were the issues handling punts with regular returner Marcus Sherels still sidelined. Sure-handed Adam Thielen lost the fumble that turned the game, and Cordarrelle Patterson looked like Miguel Sano trying to shag a fly ball when he muffed a late punt. Thankfully, Audie Cole was able to pounce on it, ensuring that Bradford still could try to lead a comeback.
3. Should the Vikings fail to make the playoffs, blame their late-game execution. If the collapse becomes complete in the next few weeks, we will remember 2016 for the killer injuries to Teddy Bridgewater, Adrian Peterson and several hundred offensive tackles. Those injuries likely will keep them from being a Super Bowl team, but they should not be an excuse if this team does not make the playoffs. In each of their past four losses, including two against the Lions and one against the Redskins, the Vikings had a chance to win or tie in the final two minutes and couldn’t get it done, whether it was the predictably punchless offense or a surprisingly soft showing by the defense. This talented group, the ones who are still left standing, should be better than a .500 team. But the Vikings are only 2-4 in one-score games after going 4-2 in them in 2015.