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How A Bad Memory Helped The Dallas Defense Hold Strong When It Mattered

MINNEAPOLIS – It's one of the oldest clichés in football, but the Dallas defense truly does enjoy the benefits of a bad memory.

What else explains the Cowboys' resolve, moments after surrendering their only touchdown of the night, to buckle down and prevent a game-tying two point conversion?

"That was pretty much, probably the biggest play in the whole game," said Terrell McClain. "That would've tied the ball game and we probably would've went to overtime. Our mentality was just to keep it from getting in the end zone."

They did just that, thanks to some timely pressure that forced Sam Bradford to throw a bad ball out of the reach of any nearby receivers. Some might complain that Cedric Thornton hit Sam Bradford in the facemask on the game-deciding play, but the Cowboys don't want to hear it.

"I'm going to let y'all write what y'all want to write, but we won the game," Thornton said.

Not only did the Cowboys nab the 17-15 win, improving to 11-1 in the process. They did so on the backs of their defense – a phrase which hasn't been uttered often this season.

They weren't quite dominant, but the much-maligned unit did the things they haven't been doing in recent weeks. They pressured Bradford, forcing him into hurried throws – on multiple third downs, not to mention the aforementioned two-point conversion. They tallied three sacks.

And, as has been the case all year, they didn't allow the Vikings' 318 yards and 21 first downs to translate. Minnesota settled for three field goals on the night, two of them from inside the Cowboys' red zone.

"Bend, but never break," Thornton said. "We try not to let them in the end zone – in walkthroughs, practice, whatever. We try not to let them in the end zone."

That's been the case all season long, and that part was no different on Thursday. The Cowboys have only allowed two opponents to score more than 23 points. And even when they did allow the Vikings to finally score a touchdown, they held on to prevent the tie.

"They finally snuck one in, in the fourth quarter," Thornton said. "We was kind of mad about it. I know Sean Lee, our captain, was real mad about it. But we came out with the win."

To answer the call on a night when the offense sputtered made it all the more meaningful. The vaunted Dallas offense tallied just 264 yards, and their efforts were marred by both penalties and turnovers. The Cowboys also lost the time of possession battle – a rarity for such a dominant ground game.

Despite all of that, the defense held the Vikings to just 87 rushing yards, they limited Bradford to 5.2 yards per attempt, and they forced seven punts on the night.

"It's a team game. At the end of the day, it's a team game," said Anthony Hitchens. "Some weeks it might be defense, offense, kicking game. Overall, we've just got to keep playing as a team and trying to get better."

Of course, it's fair to point out that this wasn't a prolific offense the Cowboys faced. The Vikings rank last in the league in total offense, and they've struggled to cope with a variety of injuries this season.

Don't expect this team to lose sleep about it. In fact, they should sleep quite well. Thursday capped off the Cowboys' third game in the last 12 days, and all three of them finished with Dallas wins.

However those wins might have been achieved, they all count the same. On a night when the Cowboys needed help from all three phases, they were certainly mindful of that.

"It was a great team win," said Dez Bryant. "It's the NFL, you know. Every player here is a true professional. You've got to come with your A-game. If not, you get wiped out."


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