Under an open roof and a prime-time Sunday night audience, once again the Dallas Cowboys struggled out of the gate, falling behind 14-0 early on. And while they eventually erased that deficit, as they've so often been able to do, in the end they were unable to overcome Dalvin Cook and the Vikings, losing to Minnesota, 28-24.
Antagonizing the Cowboys all night long was the league's leading rusher Cook, who finished the game with 183 yards from scrimmage. That included 86 yards receiving as the Dallas defense struggled to stop the screen pass. Cook carried the load for a Vikings offense that converted 57 percent of its first downs (8-of-14) on its way to 364 yards of total offense.
Kirk Cousins also proved to be a pain in the Cowboys' defensive side, as the quarterback completed 71.9 percent of his pass attempts for 220 yards, two touchdowns and a 111.5 passer rating.
But he was outplayed by the Cowboys' Dak Prescott, who earned 397 yards through the air with three scores and a 101.4 passer rating. Two of Prescott's receivers topped the century mark with Amari Cooper's 147 receiving yards leading the way while Randall Cobb had his best effort for the Cowboys, finishing with 106 yards.
While Dallas totaled 443 yards of offense in all, the running game was largely held in check. After three straight 100-yard rushing efforts, Ezekiel Elliott was restricted to just 47 yards on 20 carries, a disappointing 2.4 yards per carry average.
And again, the disturbing trend continued. For the season, the Cowboys are now outscoring opponents by an impressive margin of 251-170 overall in games, but in the first quarter they continue to come up short, now trailing 55-37.
Case in point, the Cowboys came into the night having allowed just one touchdown in each of the last two games, but the Vikings needed only a pair of possessions to top that total, scoring touchdowns on each of their first two drives.
Dallas got the ball and showed promising signs at the start as the offense was able to immediately march into Minnesota territory, something that would continue throughout the night. But after reaching the Vikings' 39-yard line, the unit stalled and out came Brett Maher for a 57-yard field goal try.
He missed badly to the left, giving the Vikings the ball at midfield. Five plays later, the visitors were on the scoreboard after tight end Kyle Rudolph made a nice one-hand grab in the back on the end zone to give Minnesota the early lead.
Though crossing midfield the next two times as well, the Cowboys were content to play the field-position game and pinned the Vikings down at their 10-yard line with a Chris Jones' punt on the visitor's second possession. Unfortunately, the results were the same as Minnesota ate up 6:19 of clock on 13 plays before Rudolph again got the honors, this time hauling in a 1-yard pass to give the Vikings a 14-0 lead in the first quarter.
But as the clocked ticked over into the second quarter, the Cowboys finally found their rhythm, and by the time the frame was over, Dallas had responded with 14 unanswered points of its own.
Again playing the field-position battle, this time the defense held, which gave Dallas the ball at the Minnesota 48-yard line after the ensuing punt. With that, the Cowboys needed only five plays to reach pay dirt, Michael Gallup corralling a Prescott offering and darting untouched to the pylon for the home side's first points of the night.
That was then followed by Randall Cobb making a honey of a catch in the end zone on the Cowboys' next series. This came off a 22-yard loft from Prescott that capped an 11-play, 83-yard drive and briefly tied the game at 14-14.
With just under two minutes remaining, though, the Vikings worked the hurry-up offense to perfection, as Cousins completed 7 of 8 pass attempts to set up a chip-shot 26-yard field goal for Dan Bailey as time expired in the half.
The Cowboys, however, had gotten back in the game. After that dismal first quarter, in which they were outgained in yards, 124-67, with Minnesota converting all four third down attempts and Dallas going 2-for-4, the Cowboys came back and held the advantage in yards in the second quarter, 162-80, and converted 5-of-6 third downs, the Vikings going 1-for-3.
Of course, Minnesota would get the ball to start the second half and the team's late momentum to end the second quarter carried over after the break as they tacked on another 10 points in the third frame. It started with another easy 27-yard field goal from Bailey after the Dallas defense bent but did not break.
However, on their next possession, the Vikings turned back to Cook, who carried the ball six times for 29 yards to push Minnesota to the Cowboys' 2-yard line. There, on fourth down, Cook's final attempt of the drive would find the end zone, swinging the score back in the Vikings' favor.
In between those scores, the Cowboys kept pace and briefly took the lead for the first time on the night. Cooper was simply amazing on the Dallas drive with two unbelievable toe-tap sideline catches, the first for 13 yards and the second a 12-yard grab that gave Dallas the touchdown. Prescott was right there with him, completing 5-of-6 passes during the series for 58 yards.
So with Minnesota now up 28-21 heading into the fourth quarter, the Cowboys went back to work. It started with a 70-yard drive that ended with 23-yard Maher field goal, the fourth straight possession that Dallas had put points on the board.
They needed to make it five straight to get the win.
But it wasn't the fault of Prescott. The quarterback was brilliant on the team's next drive. Starting at his own 6-yard line with 4:34 left in the game, Prescott completed 6-of-7 passes for 79 yards that set Dallas up with a second-and-2 at the Minnesota 11-yard line.
Almost inexplicably though, the Cowboys then tried to run the ball twice, which went for no gain and a loss of 3 yards, respectively. That left it to a fourth-and-4, the game in the balance, but Prescott's pass to Elliott on the left sideline was broken up, the team turning the ball over on downs.
The Cowboys got one more chance, getting the ball back with 17 seconds at their own 46-yard line, but the damage was done, Dallas was unable to get the final needed points on a desperate Hail Mary.
With the loss, the Cowboys fell to 5-4 on the year and into a first-place tie with the idle Philadelphia Eagles in the NFC East, the grueling part of their 2019 schedule continuing with upcoming road games at Detroit and New England.