Notebook: Vikings' late-game defense consistently poor in seventh loss
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The Minnesota Vikings defense had come away with stops on four consecutive drives in the second half of Sunday's game against the Dallas Cowboys, who got the ball back with 2:44 left.
But it happened again.
Missing three of four starters in the secondary, the Cowboys picked apart the Vikings' 30th-ranked defense when it mattered as quarterback Tony Romo completed 7-of-9 passes for 90 yards and a touchdown on the final drive to take the 27-23 lead.
The Vikings had held the Cowboys to 45 net yards on the previous four drives.
Third-down defense has been abysmal so far this season for the Vikings, but Romo didn't even need a third down on the final drive, in which he orchestrated the no-huddle offense that sealed the Cowboys' victory.
With cornerback Chris Cook out, cornerback Marcus Sherels filled in as the slot defender and was in coverage on receiver Dwayne Harris' go-ahead, seven-yard touchdown catch. Sherels appeared to freeze as Romo escaped from the pocket and threatened to run, but ultimately threw to Harris, who crossed the goal line three steps later off a 'drag' route.
For the third time this season, the Vikings defense failed to make one final stop as the unit has allowed last-minute touchdown passes (for wins) by the Chicago Bears, Cleveland Browns and Dallas Cowboys this season.
Cowboys running back DeMarco Murray returned from a knee injury, but had just four carries. Romo led the one-dimensional offense as he dropped back 54 times on 63 plays.
Despite the obvious game plan, the Vikings' replacements in the secondary failed to make plays as safeties Andrew Sendejo, Mistral Raymond and Robert Blanton rotated to fill in for the injured Jamarca Sanford and Harrison Smith. Cornerback A.J. Jefferson came away with the Vikings' first interception since the Sept. 29 win in London with less than five minutes left in the game.
But not even the rare interception by a Vikings defensive back was enough.
Romo telegraphed a pass to rookie receiver Terrance Williams and Jefferson stepped in front for the pick along the sideline. Jefferson rotated along with rookie cornerback Xavier Rhodes in relief of Josh Robinson, who moved to Cook's side.
The Vikings offense would take just 1:38 off the clock in the following three-and-out.
The Cowboys retained possession with 2:44 left and two timeouts, but needed to use just one as Romo completed the touchdown drive in 2:09.
Rookie receiver Cordarrelle Patterson muffed a kickoff return out of bounds, setting up the Vikings on their own five-yard line to start the second half offensively.
Instead of handing the ball off, Ponder dropped back as swing tackle J'Marcus Webb was beat by Cowboys defensive end George Selvie, who caused the sack-fumble in the endzone that led to a Dallas touchdown and the 20-10 lead.
Webb stepped in relief of right tackle Phil Loadholt, who suffered a concussion and exited before halftime.
The Vikings were 2-of-3 on fourth down, including Peterson's 11-yard touchdown run, but failed to convert a 4th-and-1 from the DAL 16 as the offensive line was dominated on the right side in the first-quarter attempt.
The run blocking has been one of the most looming disappointments in this issue-laced season, but Peterson still tied his season high with 140 yards on 25 carries in his homecoming to Texas.
The line allowed two sacks on Ponder, the second forcing the Vikings to use their first timeout with 15 seconds left on their final attempt to win the game.
Loadholt's concussion may hold him out of Thursday's game against the Washington Redskins, per ESPN.com's Ben Goessling.
Tight end Kyle Rudolph suffered a foot injury on his 31-yard touchdown catch in the third quarter and did not return.
Cornerback Xavier Rhodes hurt his left leg and returned for one play in the second half, but could not remain in the game.
Defensive tackle Letroy Guion left with a shoulder injury and did not return.
Kicker Blair Walsh's plant-leg hamstring pull effected coach Leslie Frazier's decision to punt on 4th-and-5 from the DAL 36 instead of try the 53-yard field goal with three minutes left. Walsh had missed an extra point, his first since college, earlier in the game.