The Minnesota Vikings preseason finale trip to Dallas was far from reminiscent of their 1998 Thanksgiving coming-out party that helped define their incredible 15-1 season.
In 1998, Randy Moss lit up the Cowboys on a nationally televised game and the Vikings ripped Dallas in a high-scoring 46-36 win. That was a different time with a different receiver and two coaching staffs ago.
No, Thursday night provided a low-scoring, 10-10 tie in a preseason finale where the most intriguing moments came on two missed field goals in overtime by the Cowboys’ Mike Vanderjagt, the NFL’s most accurate kicker of all time. But this yawner had all the makings of a game that mixed and matched personnel as both teams struggled to find an identity.
The Vikings’ defensive identity – a bend, don’t-break style that plays a frenetic pace – continued that trend. While the Vikings yielded 521 of total net yards to Dallas, the first-teamer were responsible for 162 yards and created a key second-quarter interception. Minnesota’s first-team offense and defense played the first half and left their portion of the game with a 7-3 lead behind two explosive passing plays, the last one capping the team’s only touchdown drive of the game. That came on a 24-yard scoring strike from Brad Johnson to Marcus Robinson just more than one minute into the second quarter.
The first-team defense forced an interception on Dallas’ ensuing drive before allowing a half-ending field goal drive. But, save for a broken right arm to cornerback Dovonte Edwards, who started the game in place of an injured Fred Smoot, it was a generally uneventful conclusion to a telling preseason.
The Cowboys started with wide receiver Terrell Owens in uniform back not on the field. Instead, quarterback Drew Bledsoe moved the ball on passes to fullback Anthony Fasano and tight end Jason Witten, but the Cowboys were forced to punt away their first possession.
The Vikings followed suit after passes of 11 and 9 yards to Travis Taylor picked up one first down. The Cowboys followed with an eight-play drive that featured completions of 9 yards to Patrick Crayton, 7 yards to Terry Glenn and 18 yards to Julius Jones, but the defense cracked down and forced a punt after Dallas crossed midfield.
The result was terrible field position for the Vikings, starting on their own 2-yard line, but they made the most of it. Chester Taylor moved the ball to the 25-yard line with the first five touches of the drive, but it was two explosive plays that turned a scoreless game into a Vikings lead. On the eighth play of the drive, Johnson found Troy Williamson in a seam along the left sideline for a 44-yard bomb. On the next play, Johnson followed with a post-pattern completion to Marcus Robinson for a 24-yard touchdown and a 7-0 lead with 13:54 to play in the second quarter.
Dallas responded with what looked like it could be a game-tying drive on the heels of two 15-yard penalties – a roughing the passer penalty on Napoleon Harris and a facemask penalty on DeQuincy Scott on successive plays. That put the ball inside the red zone, but one play later Kenechi Udeze hit the arm of Bledsoe on the release, which sent a fluttering pass into the waiting arms of Henderson.
The Vikings got near midfield with a short passing game, but after 11 plays they were forced to punt.
With 3:07 left to play in the first half, the Cowboys sent in Tony Romo to replace a woozy Bledsoe, and he immediately went to Owens, who entered the game on the previous drive. But it was Romo’s athletic ability that seemed to spark the Dallas offense, as he continued to connect with his receivers – Witten for 21 yards, wide receiver Terrance Copper for 32 yards and Jones for 3 yards – in the passing game. At the end of the half, Mike Vanderjagt connected for a 22-yard field.
Similar to the start of the game, the teams exchanged three punts to start the second half with Tarvaris Jackson quarterbacking the Vikings and Romo continuing through the rest of the game for Dallas.
Romo drove the Cowboys into the red zone for another scoring opportunity, but this time it was cornerback Ronyell Whitaker who intercepted a pass in the end zone at the beginning of the fourth quarter, preserving the Vikings’ 7-3 lead.
After a quarter of work for Jackson, J.T. O’Sullivan entered for the Vikings and drove them to a field goal behind the legs of Ciatrick Fason and a short passing game. Fason provided the only gain over 10 yards – a 14-yard run to the Dallas 14-yard line, but Ryan Longwell was eventually called upon and delivered a 24-yard field goal for a 10-3 Vikings lead with 6:09 to play in regulation.
Romo wasn’t about to go away quietly, however, as he connected with Copper for 24 yards and Jamaica Rector for 12. On a roll, Romo hit on his third straight completion and the biggest one of the drive, a 25-yarder to Sam Hurd, putting the Cowboys inside the red zone for the fourth time of the evening. From the 14-yard line, it took eight plays, but eventually Romo got the Cowboys a touchdown with a 2-yard, fourth-down scrambling pass to running back Tyson Thompson with 17 seconds to play. Dallas coach Bill Parcells elected to kick the extra point and go for the preseason tie, and he got his wish as the game moved to overtime knotted at 10 points each.
When the Vikings couldn’t score on their opening drive of overtime, Thompson continued to do the damage, this time with rushes of 22 yards and 13 yards to help move Dallas into field goal range. On second down at the 15-yard line, Vanderjagt looked to end the preseason with a 33-yard field goal attempt, but he pushed it wide right with 11:23 left in overtime.
O’Sullivan and the Vikings failed on three more drives, sandwiched defensively with a Willie Offord interception in the end zone to keep Dallas off the board. With that, the Cowboys were set up for their third drive of overtime on the 32-yard line with 3:15 to play.
This time, Hurd provided the explosive plays, catching a third-down pass for 33 yards and the ensuing second-down pass for 19 yards to set up Vanderjagt inside the red zone again. With two seconds left on the clock, the most accurate kicker in NFL history pushed another mid-range field goal – this one from 32 yards out – wide right.
When the Vikings went quietly with a short pass to Richard Angulo, the low-scoring game was finally ended with a 10-10 tie.
Vikings coach Brad Childress finished his inaugural preseason in Minnesota with a 2-1-1 record and a team that looks confident and tempo-setting on defense and methodical on offense, if not slow in developing a running game.