MINNEAPOLIS, Minn. – After a game like this one, it could be real easy to get caught up in the storylines that will undoubtedly dominate the headlines.
Yes, the Cowboys decided not to play Dak Prescott – although it was rather obvious that decision was made much earlier than a few hours before kickoff.
And yes, Cooper Rush pulled a Jason Garrett and rallied the team in the second half in his NFL debut.
And there was Amari Cooper and CeeDee Lamb coming up with play after play, and Cedrick Wilson catching and throwing and then Zeke busting through a wall in the fourth quarter.
Ok, so we've touched on all of that.
But the Cowboys won this game with defense. In fact, they've been winning a few games that way now. They beat the Chargers in Week 2 because they continually made stops. They made stops against the Eagles, Panthers and Giants and even the Patriots when they had to.
But on Sunday night, against a Vikings team that has two great receivers, a great running back and a quarterback that is ... pretty good at relying on those weapons, this was shaping up as the Cowboys' toughest task since facing Brady and the Bucs.
And to think, the Cowboys were comprised on offense and the defense would be counted on even more.
Yeah, no problem. The Cowboys defense rose to the occasion in what I would say was their best defensive effort this year – which would mean it has to be the best defensive game since Mike McCarthy took over, because it's hard to think they had anything close to that last year in that train wreck of a defense.
But Sunday night, the Cowboys were downright masterful on that side of the ball, stepping up time and time again, including the final drive when it mattered most.
When Amari snagged that touchdown pass in the corner of the end zone – literally like 10 feet from me – my eyes immediately darted to two places. One, back by the quarterback to see the flag-happy refs had dropped another one to negate this score. And two, up at the clock to see just how much time was left for Cousins and this offense, although they would need a touchdown for the win.
At this point, we've all been trained that high-powered offenses don't need much time at all to get up and down the field, even with no timeouts.
But with 51 seconds to play and needing 75 yards for the win, the Vikings simply couldn't do it. And not because they weren't capable, but the Cowboys defense just wouldn't allow it. Not on this day.
And like all great defenses, it starts with pressure. Randy Gregory is an absolute beast of a player and he proved it over and over Sunday night. Even after those two late-hit calls in the fourth quarter, he used his anger or frustration to fuel him to make a big tackle for loss that led to a field goal.
But back to the final drive, it was Gregory and his rush-mate Terel Basham who applied plenty of pressure on Cousins. Basham probably played his best game of the season as he was active all night long.
The Vikings chipped away at the start of the drive but it was two big tackles in bounds that sealed their fate. Even on the final play from scrimmage when Cousins was trying to get enough time in the pocket to throw a Hail Mary, there was Gregory again, nearly sacking Cousins and forcing him to throw an errant pass.
And what a ball game Micah Parsons played as well. This was probably his best game as a young pro, with 11 tackles and four for loss. I saw Chauncey Golston making a lot of plays and Jayron Kearse and Vander Esch had their moments, too.
Now, it wasn't the best game for Trevon Diggs, who not only saw his interception streak end, but he gave up a few passes here and there.
But if you think about it, with Justin Jefferson and Adam Thielen on that side, with Cook running the ball, you would expect the Vikings to score in the high 20s, maybe the 30s.
But these Cowboys, despite getting no turnovers, just one sack, and knowing they had to step up their game to offset a Dak-less offense, rose to the challenge like we haven't seen before.
This is no longer an offensive team, even though they have the best in the league.
But this game showed the Cowboys are a complete team. One that can win with a high-powered offense and one that can also win game with the offense isn't so powerful. But has a defense that provides plenty of strength as well.
Maybe it's a bit early to classify this as a great defense. They were just great Sunday night when the Cowboys needed them the most.