Favre-to-Rice connection, relentless D sends Vikings to 34-3 win over Cowboys

The Associated Press ~ staff The News
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MINNEAPOLIS - This is why Brett Favre said he was coming back. And back he is - maybe better than ever.
Four - count 'em, four - touchdown passes from Minnesota's 40-year-old quarterback put the Vikings within a game of the Super Bowl with a 34-3 rout of the Dallas Cowboys to advance to the NFC championship Sunday.
The Vikings (13-4) will take on the Saints next Sunday at New Orleans, with the winner going to the NFL title game - Favre's season-long goal and the reason he came out of retirement for a second straight season.
He found Sidney Rice for three scores and Ray Edwards led the defence's harassment of Tony Romo.
Then Favre put a veritable exclamation point on the game late in the fourth quarter when he hit Visanthe Shiancoe for his personal playoff-best fourth TD pass. Never in 22 previous post-season games had he thrown for that many touchdowns. And never before had he beaten Dallas in the playoffs. Favre completed 15 of 24 passes for 234 yards to finally do it.
"Today was like this season - it's been wonderful," Favre said.
Meanwhile, Romo sat stone-faced on the bench between possessions in the second half after a three-turnover game against one of his childhood favourites.
Romo was sacked six times, three by Edwards, lost two of his three fumbles and threw a glaring interception right to Ben Leber deep in his own end late in the third quarter to set up a field goal. After gaining 118 yards in the first quarter, the Cowboys got only 130 the rest of the way and watched the buzz from their first playoff win in 13 years last week fizzle out.
Romo finished 22-for-35 for 198 yards, but for all the strides he made this season his lack of poise in the din of the Metrodome will be remembered well. The last time Dallas won a playoff game on the road was the NFC championship after the 1992 season.
Favre had a remarkable regular season with a career-low interception total of seven and 33 touchdown passes that pushed the Vikings to their best finish in 11 years. They won their division last season, too, so this return to the playoffs was irrelevant.
The once-unfathomable partnership was formed just for this, a talented team hoping to hitch those title hopes to Favre, who was driven to disprove the doubts about his ability to get back to the big game again.
"It was everything I thought it would be throughout this year and then some," Favre said.
He took some hard hits by Dallas and that fierce front seven, but he was as sharp as he was all season. Stepping up in the pocket to elude the rush and making the right reads downfield, Favre looked the part of the missing Super Bowl piece the Vikings were searching for when they persuaded him to join them last summer.
"He's playing his heart out," defensive end Jared Allen said.
After a 35-yard heave to Rice midway through the fourth quarter that stretched the lead to 27-3, Favre ran up to right guard Anthony Herrera and jumped on his back while the fans enjoyed the frenzy.
The Vikings played Dallas only three times in the last decade, hardly rivalry material, but fans in Minnesota have plenty of contempt for the Cowboys. Favre brought his own history of defeat, though scattered and distant, against them with three straight post-season losses early in his career.
It was football's original "Hail Mary" heave in 1975 that sent Dallas one step toward the Super Bowl and left another stinging loss with Bud Grant's bridesmaid Vikings, who believed Drew Pearson was guilty of pass interference on the play. Oh, and don't forget another dubious Dallas-Minnesota link, the ill-fated Herschel Walker trade that fuelled the '90s dynasty built by the Cowboys.
So maybe this game meant a little more to the guys in purple than simply moving on to the semifinal, if not for the players then for the people who have cheered for the purple for 49 years without a championship.
The crowd was loud, as it usually is under the roof where the Vikings won all eight games this season, and that helps the defensive line here as much as any position.
The turning point came in the first quarter during a second straight too-easy drive for Dallas. Romo fumbled a second-down snap at the 35, and on fourth-and-1 at the 30 coach Wade Phillips sent Shaun Suisham out for a field goal. It went wide left, as did his try from 49 yards in the third quarter.
Suisham, ironically, missed a late 23-yard kick while he was with Washington last month that cost the Redskins a victory over then-unbeaten New Orleans. If the Saints had lost that game, the Vikings would be hosting the NFC championship.
Four plays later, Favre found Rice in single coverage and fired a perfectly placed ball up the sideline from 47 yards out for a 7-0 lead.
Just like that, the Cowboys were behind for the first time since their loss to San Diego on Dec. 13.
The Vikings then gave their defence a badly needed break, moving 80 yards in 10 plays and taking a 14-3 lead when Favre slipped past Marcus Spears and found Rice open again for a 16-yard touchdown pass.
Later, Allen stuffed Felix Jones for a one-yard loss and then blew by Flozell Adams to sack Romo and force the ball out on the next play. Kevin Williams recovered at the 20, Adams hurt his leg and the Vikings added a field goal for a 14-point lead.

Organizations: Vikings, Dallas Cowboys, NFL Metrodome Redskins

Geographic location: Dallas, Minnesota, New Orleans MINNEAPOLIS Washington San Diego

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