MINNEAPOLIS -- Former Vikings coach Jerry Burns had a saying before any big game: "We've got to make sure that our big knockers knock."
|Sidney Rice totals 141 yards and three touchdowns against the Cowboys. (AP)|
Chosen one spot ahead of USC wide receiver Dwayne Jarrett in the second round of the 2007 draft, something that infuriated the local fan base, Rice has gone from 15 catches in 2008 to the Pro Bowl this year.
His maturation is the result of a.) having a healthy right knee (he suffered a PCL sprain in Week 2 last season and b.) hard work.
Rice's offseason workouts began with, ironically enough, Dallas running back Marion Barber III, as they were introduced to each other by former Viking Jack Brewer. Rice stayed with Barber at his Miami residence.
When asked in training camp how his Miami workout sessions went, Rice simply said, "It was crazy. A lot of throwing up."
He then moved on to training gatherings with Hall of Famer Jerry Rice and soon-to-be Hall of Famer Cris Carter on the University of Minnesota campus. Those workouts were organized by Minneapolis native and current Arizona wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald.
This was all before training camp even started.
"What he did this offseason -- working on his route running, working with some other receivers, he put himself in perfect position to play his best and that is what you are seeing right now," said 11-year veteran tight end Jim Kleinsasser.
Going against the best first quarter defense in the regular season, the Vikings wanted to find a way to engage what can be a deafening Metrodome crowd, and Rice was the answer.
In a scoreless game, on a second-and-6 from the Dallas 47 yard line, quarterback Brett Favre hit Rice in stride with safety Gerald Sensabaugh locked in step-for-step. Credit Favre with a brilliant throw but Rice made the adjustment.
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"[It] was supposed to be a post route, but I had Cover 2, so outside release and the corner just let me go right behind him," Rice said. "Brett [Favre] just put the ball right there. The safety wasn't even looking for the ball."
On his second touchdown, a 16-yard reception over the middle in the second quarter, Rice demonstrated his extraordinary blocking skills by cutting linebacker DeMarcus Ware, and then recovered in time to find an opening. Rice noted that he actually wasn't supposed to go out and ad-libbed himself.
With his third touchdown, which tied a postseason record for most receiving touchdowns in a game, Rice became spontaneous once again.
"The last fade route I threw to him they came with an empty blitz," Favre said. "He altered his route and just ran a go. Twenty-one [Mike Jenkins] had good coverage, but it had nothing to do with out-running anyone. It was just about making that play. That's the type of player he is."
Rice is having such a good year, the Vikings' postseason media guide devotes an entire page to his accolades while the other receivers are lucky to have a couple paragraphs.
He finished second in the NFC and fourth in the NFL with 1,312 receiving yards in the regular season. Prior to this season, Rice did not have a 100-yard game. He now has five after Sunday's 141-yard outburst.
On the year, Rice set career highs in single-season receptions (83), yards (1,312), and average yards per catch (15.8).
Including the playoff win, the Vikings are 12-3 in games when Rice scores a touchdown.
Tight end Visanthe Shiancoe, who oftentimes is the last player left on the practice field along with Rice, said it best: "Big-time players make big-time plays in big-time games. He is a big-time player."
Each Vikings player had this saying put in their locker stall by coach Brad Childress Sunday morning: "A man can do remarkable things ... if he has strong enough reasons."
Rice clearly had strong enough reasons versus the Cowboys.