MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Dez Bryant sashayed through the Dallas locker room with an unmistakable swagger and had nothing but good things to say about his adversary this time around.
It was a stark change from a week ago, when he sparred with Washington cornerback Josh Norman on Thanksgiving. The trash talking Dez and the polite Dez share one thing in common: they both win.
Bryant caught four passes for 84 yards and the go-ahead touchdown in the fourth quarter, helping the Cowboys win their 11th straight game with a 17-15 victory over the Minnesota Vikings on Thursday night.
In a hard-fought battle with cornerback Xavier Rhodes, Bryant’s 56-yard catch set up Ezekiel Elliott’s 1-yard TD in the first half. Bryant caught an 8-yard scoring pass in the fourth quarter after a fumbled punt by Minnesota’s Adam Thielen.
“I knew coming into this game it was going to be a tough match and I had to be on my ‘A’ game,” Bryant said. “Because if I wasn’t, he can get the best of you. We had a good battle. We shared our thoughts throughout the game. It was good thoughts. It’s nice playing games like that.”
Elliott rushed for 86 yards on 20 carries for the Cowboys (11-1). They have the longest single-season winning streak in franchise history.
Sam Bradford threw a 3-yard touchdown pass to Jerick McKinnon with 25 seconds to play, but the 2-point conversion pass failed. Bradford argued for a penalty after he was hit in the face by a defender, but there was no call for the Vikings (6-6). Minnesota played without coach Mike Zimmer after he had emergency eye surgery Wednesday night.
“I’m sick and tired of the reffing in this league right now,” Vikings defensive end Brian Robison said. “I’m sick and tired of it. You’ve got holding calls all over the place that people don’t want to call. Bradford gets hit in the face at the end of the game and you don’t call it. I’m not laying this loss on reffing, but at some point it’s got to get better.”
Bradford completed 32 of 45 passes for 247 yards, Danielle Hunter had two sacks and Kai Forbath kicked three field goals for Minnesota, which has last six of the last seven games after a 5-0 start.
Vikings special teams coordinator Mike Priefer was elevated to head coach for the game and it remains unclear how long Zimmer will be out. Minnesota’s third-ranked defense did their fiery leader proud, holding the explosive Cowboys offense to season lows in points, yards (264) and first downs (13).
“It’s not the best game we played, but we showed up when we needed to and made the plays at the end,” Elliott said.
With Dallas’ offense doing nothing, Kyle Wilber made the play of the game when he punched the ball out of Thielen’s hand, then pulled the ball away as the two rolled to the turf. Officials initially did not catch the fumble, but a heads-up challenge by Jason Garrett got the call overturned and Prescott found Bryant on the next play.
CATCHLESS IN MINNEAPOLIS
Cowboys tight end Jason Witten did not catch a pass, snapping a team-record streak of 130 straight games with a reception dating to 2008.
A TD TO TIE TD
Elliott’s 1-yard plunge in the second quarter gave Dallas a 7-3 lead. It was his 12th touchdown rushing this season, tying him with Tony Dorsett for most by a rookie in Cowboys history.
BRADFORD UNDER SEIGE
Playing behind a patchwork offensive line that included center Nick Easton making his first career start in place of the injured Joe Berger (concussion), Bradford was under pressure all night long from a Cowboys defense that has often struggled in that area this season.
Bradford was sacked three times and had to leave the game on the final drive of the second quarter after taking a helmet from Maliek Collins to his rib cage. After getting some medical attention during halftime, Bradford was able to remain in the game.
“I had to take a deep breath,” he said. “After that they were fine.”
The bad news on the injury front for the Vikings came for safety Harrison Smith, who left the locker room on crutches with a walking boot on his left foot. He has been fighting through an ankle injury over the last several weeks.
Before the game, the Vikings played a short video of Zimmer addressing the team during a practice. Zimmer’s primary message: “Do your job.”
That has been a common theme during his three seasons in Minnesota, and the organization likely wanted the players to hear it one more time before taking the field. After the video, a picture of Zimmer was put on the big screen with a “Get Well Soon” message attached.
“They fought to the bitter end, and I know coach Zimmer would’ve been very, very proud of them,” Priefer said.
Cowboys: Dallas heads to New York on Dec. 11 to face the Giants, the only team to have beaten the Cowboys this season.
Vikings: Minnesota will travel to Jacksonville on Dec. 11 to face the Jaguars, hoping the extra time off will be enough for Zimmer to recover and return to the sideline.
For more NFL coverage: http://www.pro32.ap.org and http://www.twitter.com/AP_NFL