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MURPHY: Will Cowboys kill all Vikings' tomorrows?

MINNEAPOLIS -- Desperation makes for great theater, so the Vikings should be master thespians on the national stage Thursday night with their season on the brink and the NFL's runaway train roaring into town.

Nov 6, 2016; Minneapolis, MN, USA; Minnesota Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer talks with referee Ed Hochuli during the fourth quarter against the Detroit Lions at U.S. Bank Stadium. The Lions defeated the Vikings 22-16. Mandatory Credit: Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports
Nov 6, 2016; Minneapolis, MN, USA; Minnesota Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer talks with referee Ed Hochuli during the fourth quarter against the Detroit Lions at U.S. Bank Stadium. The Lions defeated the Vikings 22-16. Mandatory Credit: Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports

MINNEAPOLIS - Desperation makes for great theater, so the Vikings should be master thespians on the national stage Thursday night with their season on the brink and the NFL's runaway train roaring into town.

As the calendar flipped to December, Minnesota vs. Dallas was supposed to be an NFC championship game primer, where grievances would be filed away and postseason home-field advantage settled.

You remember. Back when the Vikings were 5-0 and the chattering classes were floating Sam Bradford-for-MVP trial balloons and debating whether the road to Super Bowl LI in Houston marched through Dallas or Minneapolis.

Back when Minnesota boasted the NFL's most dangerous defense and an offensive line that did not require name tags.

In just six weeks, this marquee matchup has become a stepping stone for the surging Cowboys, and the Vikings' best chance to brace a startling free fall that has them staring at a .500 record and fading playoff odds.

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"This is a defining moment in our season," left guard Alex Boone said Tuesday. "It could go one way or the other. We're going to need all hands on deck to be ready to roll."

U.S. Bank Stadium might be their lifeline. The Vikings expect the crowd to be anxious, loud and disruptive to the unflappable Cowboys, who have won 10 straight since a Week 1 loss.

No one needs to explain the stakes to the realistic team or its nervous fans.

"Everything's at stake," said right guard Brandon Fusco. "Every game now's like a playoff game for us. We've got to win. We lose this game, we're falling behind a little bit."

A little bit?

Six losses in seven games would plunge Minnesota 2½ games behind NFC North-leading Detroit (7-4), which holds the tiebreaker after sweeping the season series. The Lions travel to New Orleans (5-6) Sunday and play host to the sad-sack Bears (2-9) before closing with tough games against the Giants (8-3) in New Jersey and the Cowboys (10-1) in Dallas.

The Vikings have a softer schedule that includes visits to Jacksonville (2-9) and Green Bay (5-6) and home games versus Indianapolis (5-6) and Chicago. But time is their nemesis. Opportunities to regain a toehold in the standings and reclaim their swagger are dwindling.

"We know what we have here," Boone said. "We have a very talented team. We know when we play well, we can play with the best of them."

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The Cowboys are dominating the NFL again. All that glitz, all that glamour, all great for ratings and Jerry Jones' Q-rating. All of which makes the Cowboys insufferable. It is in their DNA.

Losing veteran quarterback Tony Romo to a preseason injury and having rookie Dak Prescott blossom into such a prolific playmaker that Romo might never take another snap in Dallas is an irresistible story.

Hoping for the Cowboys to stumble into the proverbial trap game is foolish. They are too proficient and confident on both sides of the ball to be rattled by a tough road venue.

Their defense is fast and formidable. Their offensive line is the gold standard again.

Prescott, dynamic wide receiver Dez Bryant and always-reliable tight end Jason Witten are locked in as though they have been playing sandlot ball for years. Running back Ezekiel Elliott has claimed the end zone as his domain in a rookie season for the ages.

Vikings coach Mike Zimmer tensed up when asked whether this was his team's stiffest challenge to date considering the opposite directions the Vikings are Cowboys are heading.

"They're the best team we've played," Zimmer said. "We are 6-5, last time I checked. I don't know, did they take some (wins) away? But yeah, they're a good team."

If Elliott is the prototypical new power back with an extra gear, he is mirroring the ascendancy of Adrian Peterson a decade ago.

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Perhaps the Vikings will be inspired by Peterson's return to the practice field Tuesday, even if it was just for running drills. Help could be on the way for a moribund running attack if Peterson can work his way back into the lineup after being shelved with a Week 2 knee injury.

It is a tease, just like everything else with the 2016 the Vikings.

We will learn Thursday night whether there still is a reason to believe in tomorrow.

Related Topics: MINNESOTA VIKINGSFOOTBALL
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