The Hottest Team In The NFL? The Team You Don't Want To Play Right Now?
After today's game, it's hard to believe that the NFL experts were using those labels to describe the Cowboys, and not the Vikings. Three hours later, there was no doubt about which was the better of these two teams.
Credit a dominant performance by Ray Edwards, who played the game of his life. Take that a step further, and credit a defensive line that suffocated Tony Romo and left him with little time and little space to throw the ball. Credit a great performance by Brett Favre, who displayed the value of having a poised veteran quarterback under center in the playoffs. Credit Sidney Rice, who caught a pair of touchdowns in the first half and another touchdown in the second half. Credit Chris Kluwe, who did an excellent job of helping the Vikings win the field position battle.
After humiliating the long line of analysts who spent the week breathlessly praising the Cowboys and hardly mentioning the other team slated to take the field, the Vikings are heading to New Orleans for a shot at the Super Bowl. Not quite a perfect performance, but it was really dang good and we have reason to be confident heading into next week's game. After all the hype surrounding other NFC teams, it's down to the Vikings and Saints.
And indeed, Edwards tops the list of guys to credit for this win. Constantly harassing Romo, Edwards finished the game with five tackles, a trio of sacks, and even more hits on the quarterback.
He wasn't the only difference-maker up front. Jared Allen roped Romo for a sack, as did Jimmy Kennedy and Chad Greenway. Romo did have open receivers out there. And when the Cowboys ran the ball, they were largely successful. But when Romo dropped back to pass, the Vikings were all over him and made his life miserable.
On the offensive side, Adrian Peterson turned in another nondescript game -- but Brett Favre made up for that. The opening drive was rough, and Dallas quickly jumped out to huge advantages in time of possession and total yardage. But Favre responded on the next drive, targeting Sidney Rice for a 47-yard touchdown.
The Vikings took the lead with that score, and they extended their lead after a much more methodical drive early in the second quarter. The drive lasted 10 plays, 80 yards and nearly five minutes. Brett capped it off with another touchdown toss to Rice, and after a Ryan Longwell field goal, the Vikings took a 17-3 lead into the half. After a scoreless third quarter, a flurry of scoring in the fourth quarter sealed the deal. A bit of controversy over the fact that the Vikings offense kept the pace up after the game had been decided, but I have no sympathy for any member of the Cowboys who didn't like it. Should have played better. Should have stopped Brett.
Clearly, the Vikings owe a great deal to all people around the league and media who doubted them. They quite arguably entered this game as the underdogs, and they came out as a team with something to prove. Particularly the guys up front on the defensive side. By the conclusion of the afternoon, a statement was made.
Once again, that's not to say the Vikings played a perfect game. They were flagged far too often for my liking, partly due to uneven officiating from Walt Anderson's crew. Adrian Peterson was held to under three yards per carry. On the occasions that Romo had time, he had plenty of options. And when the Cowboys kept the ball on the ground, Felix Jones proved tough to stop (though for some reason, he was rarely given the ball).
But aside from those ever-so-slight negatives coming out of this game, the Vikings played about as well as we could have hoped. Need to keep up the pressure on the quarterback, need to continue feeding Sidney Rice, and need to avoid playing from behind. All three of those factors were instrumental to this victory, and all three must continue into next week to land a spot in the Super Bowl. It's a tough task, but a doable one.
The Mission to Miami shall continue.