Ray Edwards hasn't received the sort of attention the other members of the Vikings front four have the last couple of years. But in the biggest game for the franchise in a decade, Edwards came up big in sparking the Vikings to a 34-3 win. See what he had to say about it and get more than 30 notes that help tell the tale of the game.
Much was made coming into Sunday's playoff game with the Cowboys about the importance of the matchups facing pass rushers Jared Allen
and DeMarcus Ware against the opponent's respective left tackles.
But, in the end, it was defensive end Ray Edwards
who made the biggest difference, putting in a record-setting day as the Vikings blew out the Cowboys. Edwards tied a franchise record with three sacks in a playoff game, equaling a mark set by Carl Eller in the Hail Mary game against the Cowboys in 1975. Edwards' 23 sack yards also broke a postseason record for the Vikings that was held by Bob Lurtsema, who had 22 yards in sacks in 1974.
Edwards was critical in keeping the Cowboys from getting a chance to draw first blood in the game. After taking the opening kickoff, Dallas drove into Vikings territory, but a sack and strip by Edwards caused a fumble that was recovered by Kevin Williams
to thwart the game's first scoring chance.
"I think it was big," Edwards said of the fumble. "If you look at the statistics like the coaches show us every week, when guys turn the ball over away from home it's awfully hard to win."
Edwards, who has the reputation of being "the other guy" on a front four that includes Kevin and Pat Williams
and Jared Allen, stepped up big – making plays in both the pass and run game. Four of his five tackles resulted in lost yardage and he had six quarterback hurries to go with his three sacks.
"He was a wild man out there," Allen said. "He knew that he was going to have some one-on-one chances all week and made the most of it. You can't say enough about the ‘A' game he brought today."
The only thing that stopped Edwards was a knee injury in the third quarter. After getting treatment on the sidelines, he returned for one play in the fourth quarter, but it was clear he was operating on one good wheel and was immediately removed from the game. Defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier said he hopes the injury doesn't linger, because the Vikings will need Edwards Sunday against the Saints.
"I hope it isn't serious," Frazier said. "He's key to us. He stepped up. We talked all week and about how important it was for him to win those one-on-ones. He responded and stepped up."
For his part, Edwards said it will be hard to keep him off the field in the NFC Championship Game next week.
"I'm going to take it easy on (the injured knee) tonight and hopefully nothing will get worse between now and tomorrow," Edwards said. "I'll be 100 percent by next Sunday."
Antoine Winfield said after the game he "felt great" and that his ailing foot felt as good as it has since he suffered the injury in October. Frazier said he saw a change in Winfield during the week of practice.
"In talking with him during the game, it seemed like he had no problems and felt comfortable," Frazier said. "That's big, because we told him not to have any setbacks. He's so key to us – it's just big to have him out there. The way he practiced on Thursday, I told one of our coaches, ‘You know what? He's going to play lights out.' He did that today."
The Vikings held the Cowboys to just 248 total yards on 66 plays, an average of just 3.4 yards per play.
Neither team was effective on third downs. The Vikings converted just four of 13 third downs (31 percent) and Dallas was worse – making good on just three of 13 third downs (23 percent).
The Vikings tied an all-time postseason record without having a single yard on kick returns. Dallas kicked off only twice and both of them were touchbacks. Of their three punts, two were fair-caught and one went out of bounds.
Sidney Rice tied an all-time NFL postseason record by catching three touchdowns in a game and became the first Viking to be included on that list.
Brett Favre had another brilliant game for the Vikings, completing 15 of 24 passes for 234 yards and four touchdowns, giving him a passer rating of 134.4. Tony Romo was 22 of 35 for 198 yards with no touchdowns, one interception and passer rating of 66.1.
In the final three quarters, Romo completed just 14 of 24 passes for 119 yards.
To the surprise of nobody, Jason Witten and Miles Austin were the primary receivers in the Cowboys pass offense. Of the 35 passes thrown, the two of them were targeted on 21 of them. They combined to catch 14 of the 22 passes caught by Dallas receivers for 132 of the Cowboys' 198 receiving yards.
Neither team got much traction from their rush offenses. Dallas ran 25 times for 92 yards with a long run of 17 yards, led by Felix Jones with 14 carries for 69 yards. Marion Barber was held to just 14 yards on eight carries. The Vikings had 109 yards on 33 carries with a long run of 14 yards. Adrian Peterson led the way with 26 carries for just 63 yards – a dismal 2.4-yard average.
Of the 234 passing yards the Vikings had, Rice had six catches for 141 of those yards. The rest of the offense combined to catch nine passes for 93 yards.
Of the Cowboys' final six drives of the game, none of them lasted more than five plays in duration.
Ben Leber had nine tackles (eight solos) and an interception. It came deep in Dallas territory, but he said he had no delusions about scoring a touchdown.
"I kind of flashed back to Chicago last year," Leber said. "I had an interception in about the same area and tried to score and had the ball stripped away from me. When I got the pick, I saw Austin coming at me and just put two hands around the ball so I wouldn't lose it."
Dallas was 0-for-6 on third downs in the second half, which isn't conducive to mounting a comeback attempt.
Punter Chris Kluwe had a solid day. He boomed a couple of punts – one that went 61 yards – and when forced to kick short to pin Dallas deep, he dropped a punt out of bounds on 2-yard line.
The Cowboys didn't have an accepted penalty until 8:46 remained in the third quarter. Ironically, it came on a phantom defensive holding call on defensive tackle Jay Ratliff.
In the third quarter, the Vikings and Cowboys combined for zero passing yards – Dallas finished the quarter with three yards and the Vikings were minus-three.
Dallas held the ball for 17:56 of the first half, but had it for just 12:38 of the second half.
Favre was 8 of 13 passing in the first half for 131 yards, two touchdowns and a passer rating of 134.9. Peterson was the leading rusher with nine carries for 25 yards and Rice led the receivers with three catches for 72 yards and two touchdowns.
Romo completed 13 of 19 passes in the first half for 135 yards and a passer rating of 88.7. Jones had six carries for 20 yards to lead the Cowboys running attack and Austin and Witten were the primary passing targets – Witten caught five passes for 53 yards and Austin caught four for 34 yards.
In their previous four games, the Cowboys scored 75 points in the first half of those games. Sunday they had just three.
Jared Allen made his presence felt in the second quarter. With left tackle Flozell Adams sidelined in the second quarter with an ankle injury, he was replaced by backup right tackle Doug Free and Allen blew by him to get a sack and a fumble that resulted in a Vikings field goal to take a 17-3 lead.
The first penalty of the game didn't come until 7:18 remained in the first half. The Vikings' Jamarca Sanford was called for a taunting penalty on a dead-ball penalty after the Vikings sniffed out a Cowboys trick on a kickoff. Crayton threw a lateral to Ogletree that was picked up by the Vikings and buried on the 14-yard line. However, the penalty let the Cowboys start from their 29-yard line.
On the Vikings' first drive of the second quarter, Favre did most of the damage through the air and spreading the ball around. He started the drive with a 14-yard pass to Jim Kleinsasser and then converted a pair of third downs with screens that covered 19 yards with Peterson and nine yards with Taylor. He capped the drive by avoiding a sack and finding Rice over the middle for a 16-yard touchdown to give the Vikings a 14-3 lead.
Despite leading 7-0 after the first quarter, the time-of-possession battle was extremely lopsided. Dallas had the ball for 12:05 of the game's first 15 minutes, while the Vikings had the ball for just 2:55.
Dallas dominated most of the stats in the first quarter. The Cowboys gained 118 yards (79 passing, 39 rushing) to just 55 for the Vikings (47 passing, 8 rushing). The Cowboys ran 22 plays, as opposed to just seven for the Vikings.
Favre completed two of three passes in the first quarter for 55 yards and a touchdown. Peterson had three carries for eight yards and Rice had both catches for 55 yards and the touchdown.
Romo completed eight of 11 passes in the first quarter for 79 yards. Felix Jones was the leading rusher with 21 yards on five carries and five different Cowboys caught at least one pass – led by Austin with three for 22 yards.
Favre gave the Vikings a 7-0 lead on a play in which he caught the Cowboys in a coverage mismatch. He threw a perfect 47-yard strike to Rice for the score, but what the play unusual was that Rice was locked in man coverage deep down the field with safety Gerald Sensabaugh – a coverage gaffe a veteran like Favre immediately recognized and attacked.
The Vikings' lead in the first quarter was the first time in the last five games that Dallas trailed in a game at any point.
Kevin Williams made a big play to keep the game scoreless in the first quarter. After Dallas had driven into Vikings territory for the second time in their first two drives, Williams tipped a third-down pass that could have been intercepted. Austin ended up making the catch, but it was short of the first down and the Cowboys tried for a field goal – which was pushed wide left by Shaun Suisham.
Ware made his presence felt almost immediately. On the Vikings' first drive of the game, Ware lined up on the left side of the Dallas defense and blew past Phil Loadholt for a sack of Favre to kill the Vikings' first offensive series.
Ray Edwards had a huge series to start the game. In Romo's second pass attempt, he was planted into the ground by Edwards as he threw the ball. Three plays later on a second-and-10 from the Vikings 34-yard line, Edwards ran a stunt and stuffed Jones for a 4-yard loss and, on the next play, got a sack and strip on Romo that was recovered by Kevin Williams on the Vikings 35-yard line.
Vikings great Joe Kapp sounded the ceremonial Gjallarhorn prior to Sunday's game. Kapp, a gunslinging quarterback from the 1960s and 1970s, led the Vikings to their first Super Bowl in the 1969 season.
The paid attendance was 63,547, the 126th straight sellout in the Metrodome dating back to 1998.