MINNEAPOLIS -- This is where Cowboys seasons come to die. But unlike last year's trip to the unsightly Metrodome, which resulted in a 34-3 playoff loss, fans will be forced to endure 11 more games.
The Cowboys followed their normal 2010 script in Sunday's 24-21 loss to the Vikings. They won the battle of the stat sheets, but undermined themselves with 11 penalties and two key interceptions. This team is not good enough to overcome its ineptitude, and the Vikings had the good sense to patiently wait for the implosion.
Owner Jerry Jones, who was conspicuously absent from last week's postgame locker room scene, commanded a large audience in the cramped visiting locker room Sunday. Knowing what was coming, Jones made it clear that he wouldn't be making any coaching changes, which begged the subtle follow-up question, "Why the hell not?"
"I would never consider doing that during the season," said Jones, alluding to the fact that it's not something he's done since buying the team in 1989.
His explanation was that even if the team started winning under a new coach, we wouldn't know if the change was the reason for the success. For the record, this was when he completely lost me with his thought process. But honestly, it's not like the Cowboys' sideline is a who's who of head-coaching candidates. The fiery special teams coach Joe DeCamillis is an impressive man in person, as long as you don't have to watch his unit play.
Just a week removed from giving up a 73-yard kickoff return to the Titans in the fourth quarter, the Cowboys opened the second half by allowing Percy Harvin to sprint 95 yards for a touchdown that tied the score. That erased all the good things the defense had done to make Vikings quarterback Brett Favre look like a 41-year-old man with a penchant for needless pump fakes and shaky handoffs.
The Cowboys let the Vikings off the hook because that's what bad teams do. Coach Wade Phillips probably will soothe his players' immense egos with tales of how they were actually the better team Sunday (please see our chart), but some of us know better. Barring an epic turnaround, Jones will eventually get around to firing Phillips at the end of the season. And he'll absolutely hate doing it because he loves an arrangement in which a head coach defers to him on pretty much every important decision and isn't jealous of his Papa John's commercials.
If you had told the Cowboys they would hold Adrian Peterson to three yards per carry on 24 attempts and Randy Moss to five catches for 55 yards, it might sound like a recipe for success. But then some of us missed the genius of the Moss trade, which apparently was designed to open things up for Jim Kleinsasser and Greg Camarillo. Both of those players made catches that figured heavily in Sunday's outcome.
Favre, a man who has more on his mind than football these days, was crushed by Cowboys defensive end Igor Olshansky in the third quarter. He had to literally crawl for several yards before staggering to the huddle.
"When I hit quarterbacks, they get hurt," Olshansky told me in a Russian accent that brought back images of Drago in the classic film, "Rocky IV." "It normally leaves a mark."
Favre recovered in time to make his best play of the game when he sidestepped Anthony Spencer and found Kleinsasser for a 20-yard gain to set up the go-ahead touchdown.
"If you have ever gotten the wind knocked out of you, you think you're pretty close to death," Favre said. "I'm not going to sit here and say I'll be John Wayne, but I'm hoping that we didn't call a pass the next play."
The Cowboys also were victimized by a middle linebacker who has trouble getting through airport security because of a metal rod in his leg. E.J. Henderson broke his femur last season, but that didn't prevent the eighth-year player from doubling his career interception total in one afternoon.
He caught a jump ball in the first quarter when Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo had the ball deflected as soon as it left his hand, in part because All-Pro Jared Allen was allowed a free run at the quarterback. Henderson later deked Romo into throwing an interception when he showed blitz and then retreated at the last second. He snagged Romo's pass intended for Jason Witten, which set up the game-winning field goal for the Vikings in the fourth quarter.
"The second one, they sent a dog with the backer," said Romo. "It’s a hot play to Jason [Witten], so I’ve got to get the ball there. I think 56 [Henderson] did a good job. He must have rushed and come back out from the line. He did a good job and made a good play. I didn’t see him. I thought he was rushing. In the process, he did a good job coming back out. That was obviously a big play in the game. It’s tough."
Asked if he was concerned that his veteran quarterback would make such a crucial mistake, Jones showed his support in his own unique way.
"We don't have a replacement for Tony," he said.