Vikings shoot down Cowboys; will face Saints in NFC championship
By Dave Campbell, AP Sports Writer
MINNEAPOLIS -- "This is what I came back for."
For the adrenaline rush. For the in-your-face touchdown. For another shot at the Super Bowl.
Brett Favre wanted all of it, and now he's got it.
Four -- count 'em, four -- touchdown passes from Minnesota's 40-year-old quarterback sent the Vikings to the NFC championship game with a determined 34-3 rout of the Dallas Cowboys on Sunday.
"Probably the most fatigued I got today was celebrating," Favre said, smiling.
The Vikings (13-4) will take on the Saints next Sunday at New Orleans (14-3), with the winner going to the Super Bowl in Miami -- the only reason Favre put retirement on hold for a second straight season.
Favre found Sidney Rice for three scores and put an exclamation point on the final one when his fourth-and-3 pass from the 11 was caught in the end zone by Visanthe Shiancoe after the 2-minute warning.
Never in 22 previous playoff games had Favre thrown for four scores, and never before had he beaten Dallas in the postseason after losses to the Cowboys ended his first three playoff experiences with Green Bay.
Favre finished 15 for 24 for 234 yards without a turnover, slapping fives with anyone in reach and rapidly pumping his right arm after each score.
"I feel like I'm playing the same way. I have the same enthusiasm," Favre said. "As long as I'm out there, the enthusiasm and the passion that you see is real. And I know the guys feed off of that. Fans enjoy that, because it is real and genuine."
Favre even added another accomplishment as the first 40-year-old quarterback to win a playoff game.
"Today was like this season: It's been wonderful," said Favre, whose only championship came 13 years ago with the Packers.
The Vikings, who had last week off while the Cowboys whipped Philadelphia, were bothered by all the people picking Dallas to win.
"The Tasmanian devils were coming from Dallas that were about to bombard the state of Minnesota and run through us like Sherman through the South," coach Brad Childress said, exaggerating the popular opinion about this game. "All of us felt it quite palpably."
Fans, too, remembered Drew Pearson's alleged push-off in that 1975 playoff game and the Herschel Walker trade that fueled the Dallas dynasty of the '90s. 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.
Cowboys linebacker Keith Brooking balked at the late touchdown, confronting Childress on the sideline.
"I think it was totally classless and disrespectful," Brooking said.
Childress and Favre both chalked it up to staying aggressive to the end.
"That wasn't rubbing it in. It's just taking care of business," the coach said.
Ray Edwards led the Minnesota defense's harassment of Tony Romo, who sat stone-faced on the bench between possessions in the second half after a three-turnover game against one of his childhood favorites.
"Any time you come in with the expectations and goals we set and don't accomplish them, No. 1, it's frustrating," Romo said, taking a long pause. "Right now, it's just hard to think the season is over."
Romo was sacked six times, three by Edwards, lost two of his three fumbles and threw an interception right to Ben Leber deep in his own end late in the third quarter to set up a Vikings 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.
"It's like the elevator falling from the top. It's tough when it's over. If you don't win it all, you have not reached your goal," coach Wade Phillips said.
Romo went 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.
"We took some steps in the right direction with this football team," Brooking said, adding the qualifier: "I don't consider this a successful year. We play this for one reason, and one reason only."
Which is, again, just why Childress the Vikings made such a fuss over Favre this summer while he was trying to make up his mind.
"Same ol' Brett," Rice said. "He's doing thing he's done since he first came in the league: moving around, getting the ball out, breaking tackles and even running down the field and throwing blocks. That just shows you how big of a heart he has."
Favre 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," said defensive end Jared Allen, who had a sack and a forced fumble.
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 dropped a second-down snap at the 35, and on fourth-and-1 at the 30 Phillips sent Shaun Suisham out for a field goal. It went wide left, as did his try from 49 yards in the third quarter.
Four plays later, Favre found Rice in single coverage and fired a perfectly placed ball up the sideline from 47 yards out. Just like that, the Cowboys were behind for the first time since their loss to San Diego on Dec. 13.
NOTES: Sen. Al Franken and baseball star Torii Hunter, who played for the Twins but is a Cowboys fan, were among those in attendance. ... TE Jason Witten led Dallas with 10 catches and 98 yards. ... Cowboys LT Flozell Adams hurt his leg late in the second quarter and didn't return.