Thu Nov 19 8:28pm ET
By DAVE CAMPBELL
AP Pro Football Writer
Dallas Cowboys head coach Mike McCarthy, center, watches play against the Pittsburgh Steelers in the first half of an NFL football game in Arlington, Texas, Sunday, Nov. 8, 2020. (AP Photo/Ron Jenkins)
In this Oct. 25, 2020, file photo, Dallas Cowboys quarterback Andy Dalton (14) looks to pass the ball against the Washington Football Team in the first half of an NFL football game in Landover, Md. Dalton has been cleared for practice after clearing the protocols for a concussion and COVID-19. Coach Mike McCarthy said Dalton participated in an informal practice Monday, Nov. 16, 2020, the first day back for the Cowboys coming off their open week. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky, File)
Minnesota Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer walks off the field after an NFL football game against the Detroit Lions, Sunday, Nov. 8, 2020, in Minneapolis. The Vikings won 34-20. (AP Photo/Jim Mone)
MINNEAPOLIS (AP) The Minnesota Vikings stumbled into their bye with a 1-5 record, their previously fierce home-field advantage vanished as they faced a low-water mark of four games under the .500 mark for the first time in coach Mike Zimmer's seven seasons.
There was no locker room rant, though, from a leader who's known by his bluntness. Zimmer simply expressed trust in the players that they could initiate a turnaround, a belief backed up by the front office when only one trade - sending recently acquired defensive end Yannick Ngakoue to Baltimore - was made before the deadline.
''He just kind of turned to the team. It was time to step up. Tired of losing like that, in that fashion,'' linebacker Eric Kendricks said. ''We knew what kind of players we had. We knew how close we were getting at times. We just weren't finishing.''
Less than a month later, the Vikings (4-5) have a legitimate path to the playoffs if they can maintain this post-bye momentum. That's what Zimmer envisioned with the right alterations to the game plans and the right approach to the process.
''His message was kind of brief. It was `stick together,''' running back Dalvin Cook said. ''I think that took us farther than he thinks.''
The Vikings host Dallas (2-7) on Sunday afternoon, their first of three straight home games against losing teams. U.S. Bank Stadium will empty for the remainder of the season, due to continued COVID-19 prevention protocols, but as the Vikings showed in beating NFC North foes Green Bay, Detroit and Chicago over the past three weeks they're capable of generating their own edge.
''The biggest thing is playing with emotion and energy,'' Zimmer said. ''That seems to be a continuing factor. We're playing with a lot of young guys, so sometimes it's like they get out for recess and they're all excited.''
Here are some key angles to the game:
The Cowboys, who have lost four straight games, will be aiming for a similar bounce after their bye. Though quarterback Dak Prescott is done for the season with a broken ankle, his top backup Andy Dalton is on track to return on Sunday after first-time starters were used in the previous two games. What's more, the woebegone NFC East remains eminently winnable. First-place Philadelphia has only one more win and two fewer losses than Dallas.
''We understand what we've gone through in the early weeks. It was not pretty,'' coach Mike McCarthy said. ''But I'm hopeful and confident we've learned from it because we're going to need it.''
He emphasized the standings in meeting with the team this week.
''It's obvious the state of our division,'' he said.
After allowing a franchise-record 307 rushing yards against Cleveland on Oct. 4, the Cowboys must contend with the NFL's leading rusher in Cook. The Browns are led by first-year coach Kevin Stefanski, who was Minnesota's offensive coordinator in 2019 and employs the same outside-zone run schemes as the Vikings. Dallas had its best game defending the run in its most recent outing two weeks ago against Pittsburgh, allowing just 46 yards.
''I feel like we're a different team. We're playing totally different, energy is totally different, and this will not be a repeat of the Browns game,'' defensive end DeMarcus Lawrence said. ''I feel like our feet are underneath us. We're starting to play with more of a football IQ.''
Dallas running back Ezekiel Elliott, the two-time NFL rushing champion, still doesn't have a 100-yard game this year. He's had seven 100-yard performances in each of his previous three full seasons, so he'd have to run the table to match that.
''My frustration is that we're 2-7, not that I haven't had a 100-yard game,'' said Elliott, who is 11th in the league with 572 yards, well behind Cook's 954 yards. ''We're just trying to come together as a team and find a way to win a football game.''
CeeDee Lamb, the 17th overall pick, has given the Cowboys a dangerous trio of wide receivers with Amari Cooper and Michael Gallup. Five slots after Lamb, the Vikings made Jefferson the fifth wide receiver taken off the deep board. He's on pace to break the franchise rookie season records for receptions and receiving yards set by Randy Moss in 1998.
''To be drafted fifth off the board and pretty much be the top rookie receiver right now, it means a lot,'' Jefferson said. ''That's exactly what I said I was planning to do before the season started and when I was drafted, so I'm just trying to back up my words and just keep going out there and playing my best ball.''
Dallas rookie cornerback Trevon Diggs - the younger brother of former Minnesota and current Buffalo receiver Stefon Diggs - will be sidelined for at least three games after going on injured reserve with a broken foot. Cornerback Chidobe Awuzie is expected to return, though, after missing seven games with a hamstring injury. Jourdan Lewis and Anthony Brown were the only other cornerbacks to get snaps against the Steelers.
Five Waiver Wire Adds: Week 13
The New York Giants placed starting outside linebacker Kyle Fackrell (calf) on Injured Reserve on Tuesday with a calf injury. Fackrell will miss at least the next three games, leaving the Giants very short-handed at the position. He was tied for second on the team with three sacks and was playing close to 100 percent of the defensive snaps before suffering the injury in the Week 12 win over the Bengals. No outside linebacker on the active roster has more than one sack this year. Linebackers Lorenzo Carter and Oshane Ximines are also on IR. Jamaal Sheard and rookies Carter Coughlin and Cam Brown could start in Week 13 against the Seahawks, making the New York defense one to avoid for fantasy managers after they were a popular streaming defense against Cincy.
The Denver Broncos activated quarterbacks Drew Lock, Brett Rypien and Blake Bortles from the Reserve/COVID-19 list on Tuesday after all three had PCR tests come back negative on Monday. They will all be eligible to play in Week 13 against the Chiefs. So barring additional team discipline, the Broncos won't be forced to use a practice-squad wide receiver under center against their division rivals. If Lock returns as the starter for this offense, it'll be excellent news for receivers Jerry Jeudy, Tim Patrick and K.J. Hamler and tight end Noah Fant. Denver will likely be forced to throw often to keep up with the Chiefs high-octane offense, too, but Lock's inconsistency this season keeps him as a low-end QB2. The 24-year-old was 24-for-40 for 254 yards and two interceptions in the first meeting against KC back in Week 7.
The Atlanta Falcons placed wide receiver Olamide Zaccheaus (toe) on Injured Reserve on Tuesday after he left the Week 12 win over the Raiders with a toe injury. In a corresponding move, the team activated receiver Laquon Treadwell from the Reserve/COVID-19 list and added him to the 53-man roster. Zaccheaus popped up for a couple decent games this year, but it his production was inconsistent on a weekly basis and he was too far down the team's receiving depth chart to be a viable fantasy option in most leagues. The second-year wideout's best game came in Week 9 against the Broncos when he had four receptions for 103 yards and his first touchdown of the season. If he doesn't make it back this year, he'll finish with 20 receptions (32 targets) for 274 yards and the one touchdown. Christian Blake and Brandon Powell could see some more playing time as the No. 4 wideout with Zaccheaus out.
Baltimore Ravens running backs J.K. Dobbins and Mark Ingram II are both eligible to be activated from the Reserve/COVID-19 list prior to the Week 12 game against the Steelers on Wednesday, but it's not a given that either will play. Both players have been isolated since testing positive for the virus on Nov. 22 and aren't allowed to fly on the team plane on Tuesday night. At this point, if you have Dobbins or Ingram on your roster, you've likely benched them for other running backs that already played in Week 12. Even if they both play, Gus Edwards could see the majority of backfield touches and will be the best fantasy play of the trio. Those that picked up Edwards in order to start him this week are hoping that neither Dobbins nor Ingram suit up in the tough matchup against the undefeated Steelers.
The Baltimore Ravens activated defensive tackle Brandon Williams, quarterback Trace McSorley, nickelback Tavon Young and cornerback Khalil Dorsey from the Reserve/COVID-19 list on Tuesday. They could activate more players from the list before kickoff against the Steelers on Wednesday. McSorley should be the backup to Robert Griffin III on Wednesday with Lamar Jackson testing positive for COVID-19 and being unavailable this week. The return of Williams will be good news for Baltimore's defensive line, who will again be without Pro Bowl defensive lineman Calais Campbell. The Ravens Defense is more of a gamble in DFS and season-long leagues against the undefeated Steelers, but inclement weather is expected and could make things tougher on both offenses.
Minnesota Vikings RB Dalvin Cook (ankle) is 'just kind of beat up,' according to offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak Tuesday, Dec. 1.
Fantasy Spin: Cook briefly left the Week 12 game against the Carolina Panthers but returned to finish with 83 total yards and 22 touches. He leads the league with 1,385 yards from scrimmage and 14 total touchdowns on the season. The Vikings' schedule gets much tougher following the Week 13 home date against the Jacksonville Jaguars, but he'll remain a matchup-proof RB1 due to his heavy usage.
San Francisco 49ers DT D.J. Jones, DE Jordan Willis and practice squad TE Daniel Helm will be activated from the Reserve/COVID-19 list and practice Thursday, Dec. 3, according to head coach Kyle Shanahan Tuesday, Dec. 1.
Los Angeles Chargers TE Matt Sokol and DB Jaylen Watkins were designated as protected practice squad players for Week 13 Tuesday, Dec. 1.
Las Vegas Raiders LB Vic Beasley, PK Dominik Eberle, DE David Irving and DE Chris Smith were designated as protected practice squad players for Week 13 Tuesday, Dec. 1.
Houston Texans WR Chad Hansen, DT Corey Liuget, WR Steven Mitchell Jr. and WR Damion Ratley were designated as protected practice squad players for Week 13 Tuesday, Dec. 1.
Jacksonville Jaguars WR Terry Godwin, DB Josh Nurse, DT Caraun Reid and PK Aldrick Rosas were designated as protected practice squad players for Week 13 Tuesday, Dec. 1.
Dallas Cowboys DB Deante Burton, OT Jordan Mills, DB Rashard Robinson and OT William Sweet were named protected practice squad players for Week 13 Tuesday, Dec. 1.
Denver Broncos RB LeVante Bellamy, TE Troy Fumagalli, DB Alijah Holder and LB Josh Watson were made protected practice squad players for Week 13 Tuesday, Dec. 1.
Cleveland Browns OT Michael Dunn, QB Kyle Lauletta, PK Matthew McCrane and OT Alex Taylor were designated as protected practice squad players for Week 13 Tuesday, Dec. 1.
Free-agent WR Joe Webb (Lions) is visiting the New York Giants Tuesday, Dec. 1.
Chicago Bears QB Tyler Bray was designated as a protected practice squad player for Week 13 Tuesday, Dec. 1.
Cincinnati Bengals QB Kevin Hogan, WR Stanley Morgan, RB Jacques Patrick and TE Mitchell Wilcox were named as protected practice squad players for Week 13 Tuesday, Dec. 1.
Buffalo Bills DE Bryan Cox Jr., C Jordan Devey, C Jonotthan Harrison and LB Darron Lee were chosen as protected practice squad players for Week 13 on Tuesday, Dec. 1.
Houston Texans WR Will Fuller and CB Bradley Roby were officially placed on the Reserve/Suspended list Tuesday, Dec. 1. The Texans also activated DT Andrew Brown from the Exempt/Commissioner Permission list.
Arizona Cardinals TE Seth DeValve, DE Michael Dogbe, RB D.J. Foster and WR A.J. Richardson were chosen as protected practice squad players for Week 13 on Tuesday, Dec. 1.