IRVING (AP) — The Cowboys keep finding ways to win — weird, wacky, harder-than-they-have-to-be ways.
Despite dominating Minnesota for most of the game, Dallas did all it could to let the Vikings stay close, even in the lead. Then, when Dallas was about to fall behind again late in the third quarter, Chris Canty blocked a potential field goal and Pat Watkins returned it 68 yards for the touchdown that sent the Cowboys to a 24-14 victory Sunday.
“If there’s any kind of doubt about what kind of heart or character they have, we saw it again,” Dallas coach Wade Phillips said. “For some reason, we’ve been behind every game. We seem to keep our poise.”
Coming off a lopsided loss at home to New England and going into their bye, the Cowboys were willing to take any victory. That’s pretty much what they got.
While this wasn’t as head-slapping as their last win, a Monday nighter in Buffalo in which they only led after time expired, it was pretty sloppy for a team that’s now an NFC-best 6-1.
After scoring a first-quarter touchdown for the first time all season, Dallas had a chance to break things open in the second. Instead, Marion Barber ran backward after gaining a first down, leading to a punt; Tony Romo and Patrick Crayton lost fumbles (both returned for TDs, although the first was called back because of a penalty) and rookie Nick Folk shanked a field goal for the first time.
The result: Minnesota led 14-7 at halftime despite trailing 250-76 in yards, 43-18 in plays and 16-5 in first downs. Plus, Romo was hobbling because of a leg injury sustained chasing the return of Crayton’s fumble.
Yet, the Vikings couldn’t capitalize. Strangely, Minnesota coach Brad Childress opted not to try swarming Romo and not to feature rookie Adrian Peterson, even though he came in as the NFL’s leading rusher, was coming off a 224-yard performance and was playing in his home state for the first time.
Peterson ran four times for 27 yards on the opening series, including a 20-yard touchdown, but got only eight more carries. He fumbled on his last one, leading to the field goal that sealed Dallas’ victory. He finished with a season-low 63 yards.
“As a competitor, you want to be out there all the time,” Peterson said. “At this level, you just have to be ready when they call your number.”
The Cowboys’ loaded up against the run, partly because they weren’t worried about the pass, figuring Tarvaris Jackson was no Tom Brady. Jackson admitted Dallas dared him to throw.
Jackson led Minnesota to a total of 196 yards, 69 coming on the opening drive. He wound up 6-of-19 for 72 yards with three sacks.
“We all took turns messing up,” Jackson said. “There were a couple of plays we left out there. We never got into a rhythm.”
The Cowboys are off to their best start since 1995, their last Super Bowl season. This also was their first victory over the Vikings since 1996 in what also was Dallas’ last playoff win.
Romo was 28-of-32 for 231 yards at halftime. Limited by his leg injury, he was only 3-of-7 for 46 yards the rest of the way. It was good enough, though, thanks to Watkins’ return — Dallas’ first TD off a blocked field goal since 1983 — and a 45-yard field goal by Folk after Peterson’s fumble.
“The bottom line is we executed,” Romo said.
Romo went 9-of-10 on the opening drive, marching Dallas 80 yards for a touchdown. Using a new no-huddle look, he converted four straight third downs, including the capper, a 5-yard TD toss to Terrell Owens. It was the first time the league’s second-highest scoring offense reached the end zone in the first quarter all season; it was their first points in the first period since Week 2.
But on the return of Crayton’s fumble, Romo gave chase for the tackle then, “I kind of looked into his eyes and he looked like he was ready to take the hit more than I was.” Romo slid and came up limping anyway.
Barber had 96 yards and the touchdown that tied it at 14. It was the first rushing TD against Minnesota this season. Julius Jones added 28 yards as the Cowboys became the first team to run for more than 100 yards against the Vikings.
Owens caught seven passes for 103 yards and a TD. Jason Witten caught a career-high 10 passes for 86 yards.