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A collective exhale could be heard around Minnesota on Sunday afternoon when Vikings running back Dalvin Cook returned after halftime of a 31-28 loss to the Cowboys, bouncing back from a jarring hit that caused a fumble and brought medical attention to the workhorse.

Cook left near the end of the second quarter after Cowboys safety Donovan Wilson lowered his shoulder into Cook’s chest during a catch over the middle of the field. He appeared to have the wind knocked out of him. Cook returned after intermission to finish his 160-yard day from scrimmage on 32 touches.

“I can’t count the hits, but the one across the middle was a good hit,” Cook said. “But it’s football. I think we did a pretty good job on the ground today sticking with it, staying with it. We gave ourselves a chance to win. We just didn’t pull it off.”

A slow start offensively could be traced back, in part, to Cook being capped early by a Cowboys defense that held him to a 3.1-yard average

“We were getting little bits here and there in the run game. It wasn’t explosive,” coach Mike Zimmer said. “If you look back in the ballgame, they were second-and-5 a lot and we were second-and-8. I think first down was probably a big key throughout the game.”

Cook was only one of a few Vikings to get medical attention briefly before returning to the game, including defensive ends Ifeadi Odenigbo and Jalyn Holmes. Tight end Irv Smith Jr. returned from a groin injury and one-game absence, catching both targets for 23 yards.

Jones starts at guard

The Vikings offensive line started a fourth different combination with Brett Jones replacing rookie Ezra Cleveland (ankle) at right guard. The offense got off to a slow start with both sacks on quarterback Kirk Cousins in the first half; however, the first “sack” was Cousins running out of bounds behind the line of scrimmage. He credited play calling for creating more room to operate in the second half.

“Maybe just a couple bootlegs here and there that got us out on the edge,” Cousins said. “We hit a couple screens, maybe, at the end of the first half, start of the second half, so just good complements to what [the Cowboys defenders] were doing. It’s a good pass rush.”

Cowboys’ changeup

The Cowboys also made an offensive line change, moving All-Pro right guard Zack Martin to right tackle for an offense with both of its starting tackles, Tyron Smith and La’el Collins, on injured reserve. Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott then ran for his first 100-yard rushing game of this season, finishing with 103 yards on 18 carries. The Vikings defense had no tackles for losses on Elliott.

“Zack is a hell of a player,” Elliott said. “He can play any position on our O-line and be dominant; that’s rare. A lot of those runs today were behind Zack.”

Corner rotation get another go-round

Zimmer once again had a Vikings cornerback rotation, with the return of rookie Cameron Dantzler from a two-game absence and concussion. But Chris Jones, who started as the No. 3 corner in the nickel defense, appeared to get pulled from the game after he didn’t tackle Cowboys running back Tony Pollard on a 42-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter.

Dantzler, rookie Jeff Gladney and Kris Boyd played the rest of the fourth quarter. Dantzler initially came off the bench in his first game action since a scary Nov. 1 collision at Green Bay left him strapped to a backboard and taken to a hospital.