Turning point: Early stands carry defense

It was clear from the outset of Sunday's 34-7 Vikings win that defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier had his team ready to shut down Dallas' high-powered offense. But it was the defenders' early resiliency that created the turning point of the game.

As impressive as the Vikings looked in their 34-3 blowout of the Dallas Cowboys Sunday, it didn't look like it would be such a whitewash when the game began. The Cowboys moved the ball into Vikings territory on each of their first three drives but came away with just three points – never allowing Dallas to build momentum and delivering a playoff version of the turning point of the game.

Defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier said the Cowboys' big start didn't change anything the Vikings did defensively. If anything, it increased their resolve.

"They're a good offensive team and they've done some good things," Frazier said. "We talk a lot in our league about weather the storm at times and handle the adversity. That's part of having a good defense and a good team. You can get too high or low about the fact that maybe they come down and score on the first drive. That's not the game. It's a four-quarter game. The fact they moved the ball a little bit gave us the chance to go back, make some adjustments and do the things we needed to do. We responded."

Dallas took the opening kickoff and converted a pair of third downs to move into Vikings territory. With a first down on the Vikings 34-yard line, Ray Edwards stepped up with a pair of huge plays. First, he stuffed Felix Jones for a 4-yard loss that put the Cowboys out of field goal range and, on the next play, he sacked quarterback Tony Romo and caused a fumble that was recovered by Kevin Williams to kill the drive.

"Our coaches did a great job of getting us ready for the game," Edwards said. "We just go out there and play our defense no matter how hot anybody is or what they've put on film. We go out there and do our job. We worry about what we do, not what anybody else does."

After the Vikings went three-and-out on their first drive, the Cowboys quickly moved back into scoring position. After nearly throwing an interception on third down, the Cowboys had to settle for a 48-yard field goal attempt that kicker Shaun Suisham pushed wide left to keep the game scoreless with 5:48 to play.

Safety Madieu Williams said that keeping the Cowboys off the board early was key because it denied them the chance to silence the Metrodome crowd and get the Vikings worried. As the defense bent, but didn't break, the momentum never actually got behind the Cowboys.

"Any time you can minimize the points on the board, it definitely helps you in terms of giving you a chance to win the game," Williams said. "Even though they were moving the ball, we didn't panic. We knew we needed a stop by any means necessary – whether it was a missed field goal, a turnover or whatever it was. We were just happy they were only able to come away with three points out of it."

The Vikings finally broke through on their second drive of the game, as Brett Favre connected with Sidney Rice for a 47-yard touchdown to give the Vikings a 7-0 lead.

Dallas responded with a long drive that got as deep as the Vikings 8-yard line, but another sack by Edwards forced them to settle for a field goal. On the next Vikings drive, Favre converted a pair of third downs with completions before connecting for a second time with Rice, giving the Vikings a 14-3 lead from which they would never look back.

"With a team like Dallas, once they get going they don't stop," tight end Visanthe Shiancoe said. "We had to stop that momentum off the jump. We wanted to exert our will from the beginning and slow down that velocity that they were coming in with. It worked and we transferred the velocity and momentum over to our side and never let it go."

Once the Vikings had the lead, they were the ones that didn't stop. Dallas only got into scoring position one more time and Suisham missed another field goal. The pressure up front was relentless and had Romo throwing away passes while spinning to avoid another big hit. Linebacker Ben Leber had an interception and said his good fortune was the result of a pass rush that generated a team playoff-record six sacks.

"Those guys up front were playing hard and keeping them on their heels," Leber said. "Those guys up front deserve a lot of credit. They took it to them all day."

In the end, the Viking put together one of their most dominant defensive performances of the season and it began by withstanding the first charge of the Cowboys and turned into a tsunami of problems for the Dallas offense as it built throughout the game.

"We very confident all week – everyone on the team and all of us on the defense," Madieu Williams said. "We had one of the top defenses in the league all season. It was only a matter of time before we played all four quarters like that. It was great to put it all together in a game of this magnitude."

While the defense bent early, it was the combination of big plays at the right time that prevented Dallas from ever gaining some momentum of its own.


John Holler has been writing about the Vikings for more than a decade for Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this story on our subscriber message board.

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