Donovan McNabb (Bruce Kluckhohn/US Presswire)
Donovan McNabb converted in some key situations and Adrian Peterson found plenty of running room as the Vikings first-team looked solid in the first half of a 23-17 loss to Dallas. However, a tipped pass and a block field goal were the difference.
Despite an offense that finally looked first-team quality, mistakes killed the Vikings’ first-half effort when it counted most in their best opportunity to gauge their progress as the regular season approaches.
With Donovan McNabb and Adrian Peterson leading the way, the Vikings converted 3 of 6 third downs and outgained the Cowboys 216 to 157 yards in the first half, but a blocked field goal that was returned for a touchdown and an interception in Cowboys territory on a tipped pass helped the Cowboys take the lead away from the Vikings and never relinquish it.
With his most extensive action of the preseason, McNabb completed 12 of 18 passes for 164 yards, one touchdown and an interception and was aided by a running game that was on point. Adrian Peterson had 14 carries for 81 yards and a 5.8-yard average.
Despite a solid effort when the first-team defense was at full strength, the Vikings’ 7-0 lead midway through the first quarter turned into a 17-7 deficit 16 minutes later.
The game couldn’t have started much better for the Vikings. After their defense held the Cowboys to one first down and forced a punt, the offense went 83 yards on seven plays. They used a heavy dose of Peterson to get to midfield – he rushed five times for 27 yards, but on the seventh play of the drive, McNabb went play-action and found Bernard Berrian deep for a 49-yard touchdown over safety Abram Elam for a 7-0 lead with 7:58 left in the first quarter.
The Cowboys responded with an 11-play drive by converting two key third downs – the first one on a pass interference penalty on Chris Cook and the second one an 11-yard run for Felix Jones on third-and-1. But when CB Marcus Sherels batted down their next third-down attempt, the Cowboys were forced to settle for a 37-yard field goal to draw them within four points, trailing 7-3 with 2:52 to play in the first quarter.
Once again, the Minnesota offense looked sharp on its second drive, starting with a 12-yard pass to Percy Harvin and runs of 9 and 5 yards by Peterson. After Berrian caught a 15-yard pass in the middle of the field, the offense stalled and it would cost them. When Ryan Longwell came on for a 42-yard field goal attempt, Gerald Sensabaugh jumped over the line and blocked the kick. Alan Ball picked it up well downfield and finished the 20-yard return for a touchdown and a 10-7 Dallas lead early in the second quarter.
The Vikings responded with another drive into Dallas territory, thanks to a strong running game that produced runs of 15 yards by Peterson and 11 yard by Lorenzo Booker. And when McNabb hit Michael Jenkins on a 17-yard post, they were in scoring position, but on the next play, McNabb threw for Jim Kleinsasser in traffic. Defensive end Jason Hatcher tipped the ball and Sensebaugh made the diving interception.
The Cowboys capitalized by taking advantage of the Vikings’ backup corners with Antoine Winfield (shoulder) and Cook (hamstring) sidelined with injuries. QB Tony Romo hit Bryant for 14, 11 and 16 yards, and Jesse Holley put it on the 5-yard line with a 16-yard reception with Cedric Griffin in coverage. From there, Felix Jones powered through Tyrell Johnson and Griffin for a 5-yard touchdown and a 17-7 Dallas lead with 6:47 to play in the second quarter.
In the span of just more than one quarter of play, the Vikings’ 7-0 lead evaporated and turned into a 17-7 deficit.
Cord Parks responded with a 53-yard kickoff return into Cowboys territory, but the offense could only pick up one first down (to Harvin) before Longwell came on for a 44-yard field goal to draw the Vikings back within a score at 17-10 with 3:43 to play in the first half.
That score held up until halftime with an exchange of punts, but each team’s opening possession of the second half produced field goal opportunities. Longwell’s 52-yard attempt came up short, but the Cowboys’ Shayne Graham hit his 38-yard attempt to stretch the Dallas lead to 20-10 midway through the third quarter.
With Joe Webb in the game for the second series of the second half in relief of McNabb, he found success immediately. His first pass went 23 yards to fullback Ryan D’Imperio and, three plays later, Emmanuel Arceneaux came down with a 43-yard reception down the left sideline. On third-and-5 from the 10-yard line, Webb scrambled, tucked the ball and ran in for a touchdown to bring the Vikings within three points at 20-17 with 5:06 to play in the third quarter.
With the third-team offenses taking over in the fourth quarter, the Dallas lead held up. Christian Ponder went three-and-out in his first series, thanks to a mistimed shotgun snap that resulted in a sack on third down and, after a another Dallas drive ended with a Dan Bailey field goal with 1:07 to play, Ponder’s hurry-up offense got just inside the red zone but ran out of time.
With the third preseason game being the best measuring stick before the regular season, the first-team offense looked solid in both the ground and aerial attack, but a couple of key mistakes cost them the first-half lead and the win.
Tim Yotter is the publisher of Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this topic on our message boards. To become a subscriber to the Viking Update web site or magazine, click here.