DALLAS — Week 10 afforded a proving ground for the Minnesota Vikings, who entered and exited AT&T Stadium holding on to the No. 6 seed in the NFC playoff picture after capturing a 28-24 win against the Dallas Cowboys.
For the Vikings (7-3), it was a huge win at a critical point of the season, and they succeeded at what had failed them previously. Minnesota beat a good team (Dallas, 5-4, entered Sunday leading the NFC East) on the road and overcame its own pitfalls, particularly on defense.
Sure, the Vikings would have remained the No. 6 seed regardless of the outcome, but Sunday night’s victory not only shattered the notion that quarterback Kirk Cousins can’t come through in the biggest games, it gave Minnesota a preview of the type of competition it will have to beat if it reaches the postseason.
Minnesota is locked into the current playoff picture, but has issues that need to be ironed out if it wants to remain in that position and make a deep run in January. On Sunday, the Vikings took the first step towards getting there and gained important ground over other NFC hopefuls like the Carolina Panthers (5-4), Philadelphia Eagles (5-4) and Los Angeles Rams (5-4).
Offensive superlatives galore: You could chalk this game up as “The Kyle Rudolph special” or “Dalvin Cook day” and both would accurately define what worked offensively for Minnesota. Rudolph’s two 1-yard touchdowns on back-to-back drives in the first quarter allowed the Vikings to jump out to a 14-0 lead and activate the passing attack on a night they’d be without Adam Thielen (hamstring injury). Cook recorded yet another 100 yard rushing day against one of the league’s best run defenses, and the statement Minnesota made with its run game played out at a pivotal point. On its final touchdown, the Vikings ran the ball 11 times, culminating in a 2-yard touchdown run by Cook, followed up by a 2-point conversion catch by Rudolph. The Vikings ripped off five runs of 10 yards or more on Sunday, which ties the second-most Dallas has allowed this season.
Defensive deficiencies: Trae Waynes‘ absence made for a nightmare outing for Mike Hughes. Dallas quarterback Dak Prescott picked apart the second-year cornerback, who was targeted 17 times as the nearest defender in coverage, according to NFL Next Gen Stats, which is the most by any player in any game this season. Hughes gave up 10 receptions for 139 yards and a touchdown, and allowed several third-and-longs, including two third-and-12s on separate touchdown drives, and a third-and-14 later in the game. As a whole, Minnesota let Dallas convert nine of its 15 third-down attempts, a rate made worse by the lack of pass rush and push up the middle because of Linval Joseph‘s absence due to injury
But when it mattered most: Eric Kendricks came through, like he’s done so many times this season. His huge stop on fourth-and-5 allowed the Vikings to hold off Dallas’ late-game push. Kendricks entered Week 10 leading all NFL linebackers with 10 passes defended, and added his 11th during the most critical moment of the game. Ifeadi Odenigbo deserves credit for his tackle for loss on Ezekiel Elliott the play before as well.