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Maligned Cowboys defense makes pivotal plays in an upset win over Vikings

The Cowboys defense continues to show improvement, with a clutch showing against the Vikings.
Credit: AP
Dallas Cowboys safety Donovan Wilson celebrates after recovering a fumble by Minnesota Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins during the first half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Nov. 22, 2020, in Minneapolis. (AP Photo/Bruce Kluckhohn)

FRISCO, Texas —

The Cowboys improbable upset win over the Vikings was a great example of complementary football, with a much-maligned Cowboys defense unit coming up with several pivotal plays to lead Dallas to a 31-28 victory.

“The whole way, we played the game and kept fighting," said linebacker Leighton Vander Esch. "I think that’s the ultimate thing we can hang our hat on and that we can gain confidence off of and just keep it rolling."

With a little less than 6 minutes left in the game, the Vikings took possession, having scored touchdowns on their previous three possessions. It looked as though the Cowboys defense was out of gas and Minnesota was poised for a knockout blow. 

After giving up a quick first down, the Cowboys defense somehow stiffened, stuffing Dalvin Cook on a run play and eventually stopping a third-and-ten play.

“You have to play balanced football to win against the excellent teams, and we knew we were going to have to get it done in some form or fashion in all three phases, so we needed those stops from our defense,” said Head Coach Mike McCarthy.

After the Cowboys scored the go-ahead touchdown, Kirk Cousins still had a minute-and-a-half left on the clock and one timeout, with a chance to at least tie the game. But the Cowboys defense stood tall again.

On a third down play, nickel cornerback Jourdan Lewis provided flawless coverage on Vikings receiver Adam Thielen, who had tormented the Cowboys for most of the second half. Then on fourth down, Cowboys defensive end Aldon Smith pressured Cousins, who threw incomplete and that was the game.

“They fight every game, every down. That shows a lot, just their character and their fight,” said receiver CeeDee Lamb. “The defense definitely came up and showed out.”

They also set the tone in the first half, playing well against the run and more importantly, creating turnovers that have been far too rare this season.

Safety Donovan Wilson paved the way for the Cowboys' first touchdown when he sacked Cousins and simultaneously stripped the ball away from him. Three plays later the Cowboys opened a 6-0 lead in the first quarter.

Then just before the half, Wilson delivered a bone-crushing hit that forced Dalvin Cook fumble, ending a Vikings drive and setting up the Cowboys in good field position leading to a field goal just before the half.

“He’s a stud,” McCarthy said of Wilson. “Just love the way he plays, just so proud of him, starting out on special teams and now with this opportunity that he’s earned. He’s probably one of our best players going after the football."

The Cowboys ended up winning the turnover battle and the game despite being a touchdown underdog.