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What we learned: Cowboys extend winning streak to 11

Kyle Wilber forced a fumble from punt returner Adam Thielen, setting up Dez Bryant's go-ahead touchdown in the Dallas Cowboys' 17-15 victory over the Minnesota Vikings on Thursday Night Football. Here's what we learned in the kickoff to Week 13:

  1. Reminiscent of the come-from-behind victory over the Eagles in Week 8, the Cowboys were outplayed for three and a half quarters before creating their own luck with Wilber's forced fumble at the Vikings' 8-yard line. Dallas' vaunted offensive line lost the battle at the line of scrimmage, MVP candidate Ezekiel Elliott fumbled and thwarted a key first down with a holding penalty, and rookie phenom Dak Prescott lost a fumble of his own, allowing the Vikings to take an early fourth-quarter lead. For once, it was Rod Marinelli's overlooked defense carrying the day, hitting Sam Bradford 10 times and breaking through for seven tackles behind the line of scrimmage.

Overcoming the stiffest test of their 11-game winning streak, the Cowboys will carry a division lead of at least two games into next week's NFC East showdown with the Giants. They can become the first team to clinch a playoff spot with a Buccaneers or Redskins loss Sunday.

  1. Pinch-hitting for coach Mike Zimmer, coordinator George Edwards was an unqualified success in his debut as Vikings defensive play-caller. His star-studded front seven limited Prescott to a season-low 139 yards, held Elliott under 90 rushing yards for the first time since Week 2 and forced four fumbles. If not for Wilber's special teams gem and Bryant's devastating double move on Harrison Smith for 56 yards, the Cowboys would have struggled to reach double digits. Minnesota's bevy of defensive playmakers -- Everson Griffen, Danielle Hunter, Brian Robison, Eric Kendricks and Anthony Barr -- deserved a better fate.
  1. Knocked out of the game after taking a shot to the ribs just prior to halftime, Sam Bradford was victimized by back-breaking mistakes from his supporting cast in the second half. Kyle Rudolph dropped a perfectly placed pass in the end zone, costing the Vikings four points. Charles Johnson dropped a pretty deep ball down the sideline on second-and-long, sabotaging one possession. Rookie Laquon Treadwell appeared to run the wrong route in the fourth quarter, missing a third-down conversion in the red zone. Bradford overcame the litany of errors to lead a textbook touchdown drive in the two-minute drill, giving the Vikings a chance for the tie with 30 seconds remaining. Right tackle Jeremiah Sirles' false start promptly transformed the two-point attempt from a 50-50 proposition into an improbable conversion from seven yards out. To add insult to injury, officials missed a personal foul on the play as defensive tackle Cedric Thornton got away with a blow to Bradford's head.
  1. The loss will ensure that Bradford remains the most unfairly maligned quarterback in football, stuck in a Catch-22 situation as an injury-ravaged line holds the rest of the offense hostage. Bradford entered the game with the league's best passer rating (134.2) on throws of 15 or more yards. Under Norv Turner in September and October, he riddled defenses with accurate downfield strikes when he wasn't getting lit up by opposing pass rushers. Since Pat Shurmur replaced Turner in early November, Bradford has been asked to oversee a quick-hitting attack designed to spare his health and keep him upright for four quarters. Now he's throwing maddeningly short of the sticks on third downs -- and still taking a weekly beating behind turnstile tackles Sirles and T.J. Clemmings. Bradford is playing the best ball of his enigmatic career, yet his offense is averaging an anemic 14.3 points per game since the Week 6 bye.
  1. Since the 1970 AFL-NFL merger, the 1993 Saints are the only "last undefeated team of the season" to miss the playoffs. Like those star-crossed Saints, the Vikings won their first five games of the season, standing as the lone undefeated team by early October. Now mired at 6-6 with a dysfunctional offense, Minnesota is in danger of joining the '93 New Orleans outfit in ignominy.
  1. Itchy trigger fingers have been epidemic among NFL coaches failing basic logic in their decision to waste replay-review challenges on low-impact plays. Just last week, Bills coach Rex Ryan and Lions coach Jim Caldwell burned through their challenges before halftime. Worse, Doug Pederson threw the red flag on a hollow 2-yard completion to Packers tight end Jared Cook, leaving the Eagles without a challenge for the game's final 17 minutes. Had Cowboys coach Jason Garrett not exercised prudence for the first three quarters, he would have lost the opportunity to challenge Wilber's forced fumble on Thielan -- the turning point in Dallas' comeback victory.
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