The Vikings coaching staff was true to its word, playing most of the starters for one series and leaving the rest of the team's final preseason game to the backups.
It was hardly a gauge of where this Minnesota Vikings team is or how good they might be, but they accomplished two goals – the first minor, the second major – winning the game 23-14 and keeping all of their front-line players healthy.
What they didn't get was more than 1 of 5 passing from Tarvaris Jackson, any rushes for Chester Taylor or any catches for Bobby Wade or Troy Williamson. What they also didn't get were any sacks from the first-team defensive line or action from Dallas' full complement of starters. But none of that was expected in a typically uneventful preseason finale.
"The No. 1 goal was to come out of that thing healthy, and we were able to accomplish that," head coach Brad Childress said to lead off his press conference. "It's also important to win the game, and I thought the guys that played through it in there, we wanted to make sure the people that are down there trying to finish out the last roster spots had no regrets."
So the Vikings will wait until Saturday to make their cutdown to 53 players, according to vice president of player personnel Rick Spielman, but those bottom-of-the-roster players got one last shot to improve their chances Thursday night.
On the team's first drive, after picking up one first down on a 13-yard Jackson-to-Sidney Rice completion, they threw three straight incompletions and were forced to punt. While Chris Kluwe got off a high, 59-yarder, Jerheme Urban slipped between two cover men and shed a tackle attempt by Kluwe at midfield on his way to a 95-yard touchdown and a 7-0 Dallas lead only 4:06 into the game.
With Brooks Bollinger in, the game turned to a punt-fest for the next three possessions between the two teams, with the Cowboys picking up the only first down during that span. On Dallas' fourth possession of the game, the Vikings got the big play they have needed so often to get on the scoreboard. Following back-to-back penalties on the Vikings, Heath Farwell popped the ball out of Urban's grasp and Greg Blue recovered after nearly intercepting a pass earlier in the drive.
Blue's recovery set up the Vikings on the Dallas 41-yard line, and Bollinger took advantage of the field position. After taking a sack, he recovered on the next play and found Robert Ferguson open in the middle of the field and, one cutback move later, the recently acquired receiver was running down the right sideline for a 38-yard gain to the 24-yard line. Two Artose Pinner runs picked up another first down, and a 10-yard completion to TE Stephen Spach put the Vikings on the doorstep of the end zone. Pinner got it done with two runs, and Minnesota knotted the game 7-7 only 36 seconds into the second quarter.
The defense came through for the Vikings again when defensive tackle Howard Green recovered a bad center-quarterback exchange and the Vikings were in even better position on the 19-yard line. Mewelde Moore did most of the work, gaining 9 yards on three carries, as the offense eventually got to the 4-yard line. From there, Sidney Rice made a nice adjustment on a pass from Bollinger thrown high and behind him to put Minnesota ahead 14-7 with 10:29 to play in the first half.
After another exchange of punts, Dallas' offense got back in a rhythm with short passes and one big one – a 24-yard pass to tight end Tony Curtis to convert second-and-23. From there, the Cowboys completed seven straight passes and not one of them went for more than 6 yards. The final one, a 5-yarder to Curtis, tied the game with a touchdown with 1:56 to play.
Despite having no timeouts, Bollinger took the offense into scoring position. An 18-yard pass to Billy McMullen on a crossing route picked up the initial first down, and Bollinger followed that with a 10-yard pass to rookie Aundrae Allison, but he still needed one more first down to put them in field goal range. After two consecutive incompletions, on fourth-and-4 Bollinger found McMullen along the left sideline for 15 yards before he stepped out of bounds to stop the clock with eight seconds remaining. Ryan Longwell came on and converted a 47-yard field goal for a 17-14 Vikings lead that they took to halftime.
With Kelly Holcomb entering the game, the Vikings started the second half much like they ended the first half – with a drive ending in a field goal. Holcomb looked sharp early. After Moore picked up 6 yards on two carries, Holcomb delivered a strike to Martin Nance in stride for 16 yards. Following another first-down pickup for Moore on two rushes, Holcomb found Jason Carter for 22 yards along the left sideline, advancing the ball to the 15-yard line and setting up Longwell for a 27-yard field four plays later.
With a 20-14 advantage, the Vikings defense allowed the Cowboys to drive past midfield with a 17-yard pass to start their ensuing drive and a short passing offense to follow, but the Minnesota defense stiffened and forced an incompletion on fourth down.
Holcomb took over near midfield and engineered two first downs before going for it all with a pass deep into Dallas territory, but safety Courtney Brown intercepted it to keep the Cowboys within a touchdown of the lead.
With rookie Tyler Thigpen in the game for the Vikings, the team went to a ground game that accomplished little but grinding out the clock. The teams traded four possessions that yielded nary a first down but did produce another fumble recovery for Green, setting the offense up at the Cowboys 44-yard line.
Ciatrick Fason moved the chains on third down with a 9-yard run and fullback Naufahu Tahi followed suit with a 10-yarder on the next play. The team got just inside the red zone before needing to call on Longwell for a 37-yarder to give the Vikings a 23-14 lead with 8:48 to play.
A Brian Robison trifecta – a sack, forced fumble and fumble recovery – on the Cowboys' next possession and a game-ending interception by cornerback Chad Johnson on Dallas' last possession ended any thoughts of a Cowboy comeback.
It was hardly even a tune-up for the Vikings' starters, who barely got the ignition turned over before turning over the game to the backups, but a 23-14 win helped the Vikings finish the preseason with a .500 record and a healthy crew of starters.
Two Goals Met: Winning, Staying Healthy
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