Cowboys learn valuable lesson in narrow win over Vikings

MINNEAPOLIS — The Dallas Cowboys got a critical glimpse of what’s coming in the near future during their 17-15 win over Minnesota. This was a game that required Dallas to do things that haven’t been a big part of its season thus far: playing through mistakes, surviving without contributions from key players, dealing with costly penalties in crucial situations. It’s easy to think the Cowboys merely stole a victory when an upset seemed quite possible. It’s more important to realize that these are the kinds of games they’ll be playing in January, so it’s best to get accustomed to them in December.

Simply put, this was a contest the Cowboys should’ve lost. The Vikings controlled the Dallas offense for most of the contest and Minnesota also won the turnover battle. The raucous crowd inside U.S. Bank Stadium also kept the pressure on Dallas throughout the entire game. For the first time in weeks, it felt as if the Cowboys didn’t have immediate answers for the challenges they faced on nearly every series.

The most impressive part about Thursday night, however, is that Dallas didn’t quiver in the face of such adversity. It simply waited for the right opportunities and then pounced on them to improve to 11-1.

“This was a tough night and I like to use the word ‘fight’ as much as ‘resilience,'” Cowboys coach Jason Garrett said. “We just kept battling. We kept fighting. Individually, the units came back to overcome different things. We kept picking each other up. It’s the foundation of what we try to do each and every day with the Cowboys and that (approach) was on display.”

This isn’t the first time the Cowboys have won a tight game. They beat the Steelers in Pittsburgh in one of the most entertaining contests of the season — a 35-30 win — and they survived the Philadelphia Eagles at home when rookie quarterback Dak Prescott rallied his team to a 29-23 overtime victory after playing poorly for more than three quarters. So they’ve already shown they can handle the heat that swells in high-pressure situations. They also won those games largely because their stars found ways to dominate.

That was not the case against the Vikings. Prescott only threw for 139 yards and was sacked him three times. Star running back Ezekiel Elliott gained 86 yards but 30 came on one carry. Wide receiver Dez Bryant produced 84 receiving yards — including a 56-yard catch that set up his team’s first touchdown — but tight end Jason Witten didn’t catch a pass. Dallas struggled on third downs (1 for 9), in the turnover battle (they lost 2-1) and with penalties (10 for 78 yards).

Like every team, the Cowboys were due to have a game like this. What they should take away from it is that teams that play deep into January learn how to win on their worst days. The Cowboys could’ve had a ready-made excuse for their sloppiness, that being they were playing…