Vikings dominate Dallas, 34-3

The Vikings punched their ticket to the NFC Championship Game by having far more punch than the Cowboys on both sides of the ball. A dominating effort on offense and defense gave Minnesota the 34-3 win and their chance at the New Orleans Saints next Sunday.

America's Team became Minnesota's stepping stone.

The Vikings heard enough talk about the Dallas Cowboys last week, some players using that as motivation on their way to a 34-3 divisional-round playoff win at the Metrodome Sunday.

"Our deal was this: We got a good football team," Vikings coach Brad Childress said. "I told them that all year long. I heard all that nonsense and all the hype about Dallas Cowboys coming to town, the hottest team in the playoffs. I asked my team early in the week to choke it back and shut up. We will play the game when we get here on Sunday."

The win came in resounding fashion and with an all-around effort. Brett Favre was on his game, throwing for 234 yards, four touchdowns and no interceptions for a 134.4 rating, the second-best in team playoff history. Most of those yards went Sidney Rice, who also had a record-setting game with six catches for 141 yards, tying an NFL record and setting a team single-game playoff record with three touchdowns catches.

The defense was just as good. It limited a previously explosive Dallas offense to 248 total net yards, 3 of 13 on third downs and an average gain of only 3.8 yards per play. Tony Romo was pressured all game long, throwing for only 198 yards, no touchdowns and an interception. He was sacked six times and hit many more times than that. Ray Edwards was a catalyst on the defensive end, registering three sacks before leaving in the third quarter with a knee injury.

"The game is not rocket science," Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo said. "If you have the ability to get pressure from the front four, it allows you to play a pretty sound game defensively."

Early on, it was a bend-don't-break defense for Minnesota, which held Dallas to three points after its first three drives ended in Dallas territory. The first ended in a fumble on an Edwards sack, the second ended with the first of two Shaun Suisham missed field goals and the third accounted for the only three points the Cowboys could muster.

The Vikings survived much of the first quarter trying to hold the Cowboys out of points. Dallas took each of its first two possessions into scoring position. The first drive featured three passes to Miles Austin to move across midfield before Patrick Crayton put the Cowboys in scoring position with a 13-yard reception, but their first drive ended when Ray Edwards stripped Romo of the ball on a scramble and Kevin Williams recovered.

The Vikings couldn't take advantage of that turnover, going three-and-out, and Dallas was back in Minnesota territory after three straight touches by Felix Jones gained 28 yards. The Cowboys fumbled the ball around again when Romo muffed a snap, but Dallas recovered that one. And the Vikings caught another break when Shaun Suisham missed a 48-yard field goal wide left.

This time, the Vikings responded. Favre picked up one first down with a 9-yard pass to Rice, but his next throw to the emerging receiver was even better. Facing pressure, Favre threw a perfect pass to Rice down the right sideline and the two connected for a 47-yard touchdown and a 7-0 lead with 4:04 left in the first quarter.

The Cowboys responded with a scoring drive of their own, using a heavy dose of their tight ends in the middle of the field. Martellus Bennett caught two passes for 24 yards and Jason Witten caught two passes for 26 yards. But once inside the 10-yard line, Edwards got to Romo again for a 7-yard sack. However, Suisham converted the ensuing field goal attempt from 33 yards out for to cut the early deficit to 7-3.

The Vikings kept applying the pressure and got Adrian Peterson involved. He converted third-and-3 with a short reception that he turned into a 19-yard gain. Chester Taylor followed suit by picking up another first down with a reception out of the backfield, and Peterson put the ball inside the red zone with an 11-yard run. On the next play, Favre sealed the drive by sidestepping pressure in the pocket and delivering a 16-yard touchdown strike to Rice to give Minnesota a 14-3 lead midway through the second quarter.

The defense continued to apply the pressure. Jared Allen came through with a second-down sack and forced a fumble that Ben Leber recovered, giving the Vikings possession at the 20-yard line. Berrian advanced it to the 7-yard line with a 10-yard reception, but that was as close as they would get, settling for a 23-yard Ryan Longwell field goal and a 17-3 lead that held up until halftime.

The Vikings struggled with a number of consecutive penalties that drew their ire on their first drive of the second half and backed them up, but a good punt and a defense that sent the Cowboys back for losses of 7 and 4 yards on two of their final three plays backed the Cowboys up just far enough to allow another Suisham missed field goal, this one from 49 yards out.

The third quarter was mainly an exchange of punts, but Ben Leber created the play of the period with an interception, giving Favre and company the ball on the Dallas 15-yard line. Four plays later, Longwell hit a 28-yard field goal to make it a 20-3 game – and a three-possession game – with 14:23 to play.

The Cowboys moved to midfield on their next possession, but Jimmy Kennedy put that drive to bed with a 7-yard sack to force a punt.

But it didn't take Favre long to essentially end the game. He connected with Rice on a 20-yard pass to midfield and three plays later found him once again for a 45-yard touchdown and a 27-3 lead with 7:32 left in the game.

When Visanthe Shiancoe caught an 11-yard touchdown pass with 1:55 to play, the Vikings had their 34-3 win and their ticket punched to the NFC Championship Game in New Orleans next Sunday.

The Vikings heard the roar of the national media preaching the strength of the Cowboys – even Brett Favre said they were a team that concerned him – but in the end it was a Vikings domination on both sides of the ball.

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Tim Yotter is the publisher of Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this topic on our message boards. To become a subscriber to the Viking Update web site or magazine, click here.

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