ARLINGTON -- The Cowboys didn't have an easy time against the 1-win Minnesota Vikings. But after 60 sloppy minutes of football, Dallas emerged on top, winning 27-23.
Quarterback Tony Romo's 337 yards and two touchdowns look impressive, until you account for the fact that he threw 51 passes on the day, while handing off all of seven times to the Cowboys' running backs. It didn't help that the offensive line looked lost without Guard Brian Waters, who will not play again this year. But the Cowboys pulled it together for a 90-yard drive which ended in a touchdown between Romo and Dwayne Harris, and a messy win leaves Dallas 5-4 on the year.
The game held intrigue early because of the return of running back DeMarco Murray, who had missed two weeks. He started with a bang - ripping off a nifty 27-yard run on the Cowboys' first possession.
Later in the drive, Dan Bailey provided the game's first score with a 41-yard field goal - and Grapevine's Christian Ponder then led the Vikings on a 59-yard scoring drive that tied the game at three.
Midway through the second quarter, Dallas had a first down at the Vikings 12, but the series ended with a pair of Romo sacks and the Cowboys settled for a field goal.
Vikings running back Adrian Peterson, a Palestine, Texas, native, helped fuel Minnesota's first touchdown drive. Peterson reeled off runs of 10 and 13 yards, and a pass reception for 19 yards. On third-and-goal at the 6, Ponder couldn't find any open receivers - so he scrambled and ran the ball in himself, making the score 10-6, Minnesota
The Cowboys wasted no time on their first possession of the second half. Tony Romo hit tight end Jason Witten on a quick hitch that Witten turned into a 26-yard gain when he broke a tackle and raced to the Vikings' 26-yard line.
On the very next play, Romo made a play-action fake and found Witten wide open for a touchdown, putting the Cowboys in front, 13-10.
The Vikings took over the ensuing possession on their five yard line, after returner Cordarelle Patterson muffed the kickoff out of bounds.
On the first snap of the drive, Christian Ponder dropped back to pass, but George Selvie stripped the ball away and Nick Hayden recovered it in the endzone for a touchdown and a 20-10 Cowboys lead.
The Viking responded with a vengeance - a 77-yard touchdown drive, capped off when Ponder hit Kyle Rudolph for a 31-yard touchdown strike. Rudolph caught the ball, then broke a pair of tackles to pull the Vikings within three, 20-17.
Dallas had another chance to score in the third. The Cowboys drove to the 34, and on 3rd-and-15 Romo targeted Bryant, who was engaged with Vikings cornerback Josh Robinson. Bryant sought a flag and got it - on himself, an offensive pass intereference call. Incredulous, Bryant pulled off his helmet and began complaining to the referee - drawing a 15-yard unsportsmanlike conduct penalty which also made it fourth down. The Cowboys were out of field goal range and had to punt.
On the third play of the fourth quarter, things took a fortunate turn for Dallas. Ponder floated a deep ball and Orlando Scandrick took position and made a leaping catch, picking the throw off and giving the Cowboys possession at midfield. But the drive stalled after Dez Bryant dropped a Romo throw that seemed ready to settle perfectly in his hands, and the Cowboys punted.
Minnesota started with the ball on the 13. And on the drive's fourth play, they got the day's biggest play - a 53-yard run by Palestine, Texas' own Adrian Peterson. Greg Jennings got them a little closer to the end zone, then Peterson finished the drive off with a spectacular 11-yard run, where he plowed through tacklers and, aided by a push from a tight end, found the end zone. Blair Walsh came on to kick the extra point - and missed, making the score 23-20.It was only the third missed extra-point across the NFL this season.
The next drive set up an easy storyline for the coming week. On 3rd-and-9, Romo threw to Terrance Williams, who was blanketed by Vikings cornerback A.J. Jefferson. Williams couldn't outuscle the defensive back, and Jefferson came up with the pass - giving Minnesota the ball on their own 41 with a 3-point lead and 4:29 left on the clock.
But the Vikings would choose that drive to come back to earth. Minnesota didn't gain a net yard on their plays, and were forced to punt. Dwayne Harris fair-caught at the 10-yard line.
At this point, the Cowboys decided to come alive again. Witten, Harris and Cole Beasley began the drive with catches for 11, 6 and 18 yards. After an incompletion to Williams, Romo then got the big gain he needed - a 34-yard redemption strike to Dez Bryant. 3 plays later, Romo called a slant route to Dwayne Harris, then hit him over the middle. Harris dove into the end zone, and the Cowboys took a 27-23 lead with only 35 seconds on the clock. Ponder and the Vikings moved the ball, but settled for a Hail Mary from the Dallas 47 that landed harmlessly at the 5-yard line. The Cowboys hung on for a tough win over a...not-so-tough team, and moved to 5-4 on the season.
Peterson had a great game in his return to Texas, piling up 140 yards and a touchdown on 25 carries. It was the 40th 100-yard game of his career. Jason Witten led the Cowboys in receiving with 8 catches, 102 yards and a score. DeMarco Murray led the way in the running game, with 31 yards on all of four runs.
The 5-4 Cowboys return to prime time next week, as they'll face the 6-2 Saints next Sunday night at 7:30 in New Orleans.