MINNEAPOLIS -- The old Tony Romo made a cameo appearance on Sunday. The frantic alter ego, the panicked demeanor, and the dismal interceptions -- they were all there. Except, this time, it wasn't his fault. This time, Romo was scrambling for every breath, every inch, every play.
"It looked like Tony was running for his life a lot," said Dallas Cowboys coach Wade Phillips.
|Brett Favre is nearly flawless, teaming with the Minnesota defense for a thorough beating of the Cowboys. (AP)|
The Cowboys weren't just beaten 34-3. They were ravaged and punished along the way. This was baseball bat meets knee, dog vs. fire hydrant and fiancé meets mother-in-law all wrapped up into one.
The early loss of Dallas tackle Flozell Adams to injury set the tone for the Cowboys' dismal offensive-line play, but there's more to the story. The Vikings were making a statement. Not just to the Cowboys but to the New Orleans Saints as well: We're going to hit you in the mouth over and over again and see if you can hang.
If you can, good for you.
If you can't, prepare to get some new dental work.
"Our defense has been forgotten about," said Minnesota tight end Visanthe Shiancoe. "People have short attention spans. They've been talking about other defenses. I don't think they'll forget about our defense now."
So brazen were the Vikings overall that with the Cowboys on their back late in the game, legs in the air like a dead bug after being splattered by a swatter, coach Brad Childress called for a pass despite being up 27-3 under two minutes left. It ended in a Shiancoe score and the move infuriated some of the Cowboys players so much they showed the passion in postgame quotes that they didn't on the field.
"I think it was classless," said linebacker Keith Brooking in a brief interview. "It was disrespectful to our team and disrespectful to the NFL. That's not what this league is about. There's no place for it. Should we have stopped them? Yes, but it was still classless."
"We'll play them again next year," said owner Jerry Jones.
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"We apologize for that play," said a sarcastic Shiancoe. "I liked it."
He added, "I mean, if you don't like it, stop it."
Stopping Minnesota's defense seemed the more impossible mission. It was truly a remarkable effort and tremendous piece of coaching in which defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier demonstrated the full capacity of his coaching frontal lobe.
Indeed, this is the first time in the Vikings' postseason history the defense didn't allow a touchdown. Minnesota also set a team record for most quarterback sacks in a game with six.
"It was surprising, disappointing and unexpected," said Jones of his team's offensive struggles.
The Cowboys deny this but there's little question the Vikings pass rush totally rattled Romo and the offense. The Cowboys tried to prepare for the mad insanity of the Metrodome by practicing with twice the amount of pumped-in noise they normally do but it didn't seem to matter.
As the sacks piled up, Romo began sometimes dancing around the pocket when the pass rush wasn't even there.
The Vikings' defensive bogarting paired with Brett Favre's accuracy makes the Vikings the most formidable threat the Saints have faced all season. Despite an ego so blistering it could trigger another Big Bang, the way Favre mastered the intricacies of the offense, and outsmarted the Cowboys' coaching staff, was a wonder to see. He threw for four touchdowns and had a passer rating of 134.4
When Favre is on like this the Vikings are a brutal out. These games are why the Vikings got Favre and he has delivered wonderfully. Not even the most hateful of Favre haters can deny this.
What makes Favre's day even more stunning is that all-universe runner Adrian Peterson wasn't a significant factor. At the end of the first quarter, which set the tone for the game, Peterson had only three carries for eight yards while Favre already had a 47-yard touchdown pass. Peterson finished with no touchdowns and 63 yards rushing on 26 attempts. His numbers were Jamal Lewis-like.
What Favre did (without Peterson) was give Minnesota a large lead and then the Vikings defense, led by defensive end Ray Edwards (three sacks), demolished a fragile offensive line and timid quarterback.
In pregame warmups, Al Franken, the Democratic senator from Minnesota, sporting his Vikings hat, approached Jones to say hello and initially Jones didn't recognize him.
Jones might not have recognized Franken but the Cowboys owner now certainly recognizes the full capacity of the Vikings' defense, particularly since Romo spent all afternoon on his back.