Many had already crowned the Cowboys as the team to beat in NFC and the best team in the NFL. How could the Vikings possibly stop Demarcus Ware & Co? How could the Vikings possibly contain the entire offensive attack of the high-flying Cowboys?
The answer was simple—punch them in the mouth and dominate them in every facet of the game.
The second-seeded Vikings (13-4) were up to the task and destroyed the "hottest" team in the NFC in a laugher 34-3 to advance to the showdown in the Superdome against the top-seeded New Orleans Saints (14-3) on Sunday.
It wasn't Demarcus Ware, Anthony Spencer, or Jay Ratliff causing havoc on this day. Instead, it was Ray Edwards, Jared Allen, Kevin Williams, Pat Williams, Jimmy Kennedy, Brian Robison, and Fred Evans creating a nightmare for Tony Romo and the Cowboys offensive line.
The Vikings defense finished with six sacks, had 11 tackles for negative yards, forced three turnovers, allowed only three points, and gave up only one play of over 20 yards (a 22-yard pass completion from Romo to Jason Witten).
Their tone-setter for this game was the underrated Ray Edwards, who collected five tackles, three sacks, and one forced fumble before leaving in the third quarter due to a knee injury. Edwards used the deafening crowd noise to his advantage by beating Cowboys right tackle Marc Colombo off the line time and time again.
Once left tackle Flozell Adams (knee) left after the first quarter, Jared Allen joined the sack party. Allen shot past Witten on a surprising one-on-one battle only two plays after Adams left drilling Romo's back and jarring the ball loose for a Vikings recovery. Adams was replaced by Doug Free, who filled in admirably for Colombo at right tackle when he was injured.
The best defensive line in the NFL—with various nicknames including "Three Men and a Mullet," "The Land of 10,000 Sacks," or "Shock and AWWE" (Allen, Williams, Willams, and Edwards)—showed they don't like to be disrespected. In response, they dominated the game in every sense of the word.
All week analysts and writers talked about how great the Dallas defense has been and virtually crowned them the best. However, they failed to realize the Vikings have the best defensive line in football and have all year. The Vikings led the NFL in sacks with 48 this season and were second in defending the run after finishing first the three previous seasons.
The Vikings six sacks accounted for -42 yards for the Cowboys and led to an uncomfortable Tony Romo all day. The Cowboys were only able to manage 3.8 yards per passing play (with sacks included) and only 3.7 yards rushing per play. The Vikings' vaunted run defense held the Cowboys to 92 yards. After the first quarter, the Cowboys were able to do little to nothing on the offensive side of the ball.
It was clear on this day that home-field advantage combined with a dominating defense and a prolific offense led by the 40-year old surgeon, Brett Favre is just the right equation for playoff success.
The Minnesota offense benefited from the dominating defense, a solid offensive line, and the rapid rise of receiver Sidney Rice. Rice finished with six catches for 141 yards and three scores. His second score could be considered his most impressive though all were incredible plays. With the Vikings on the Dallas 16, Rice came in-motion and cut-blocked Demarcus Ware. After falling to the ground, Rice proceeded to get back up and find an opening as Brett Favre scrambled around for an easy touchdown just before half.
Favre finished with a 134.4 passer rating while connecting on four touchdowns on just 15 completions. He made the most of his completions connecting on two touchdown strikes to Rice of 45 and 47 yards.
The Vikings will need to get Adrian Peterson going more effectively next week against the Saints but his 26 attempts for 63 yards kept the Cowboys honest. Minnesota was able to gain 109 yards on the ground thanks to 23 yards from both Chester Taylor and Percy Harvin.
With Drew Brees & Co. waiting at the Superdome it is clear that defensive pressure will be an integral part of the Vikings' success and chance to head to Miami. If the Vikings can get to Brees and continue to play like the "Purple People Eaters" of the past, a Super Bowl berth will be theirs for the taking.
Though I have to admit "Shock & AWWE" sounds just right today. Just ask Tony Romo and the Cowboys.