Divisional Playoffs: Cowboys @ Vikings – Today is the Day


Today is what the Vikings signed Brett Favre for.  Today is why they endured all the media scrutiny and ancillary silliness.  Today will decide if all the tension and strife were worth it.

Today, the Vikings will play their second playoff game of the Brad Childress era.  The difference between this playoff game and the last is, this time, they have a quarterback who gives them a chance to win.

Today, the Vikings franchise can take a major step toward finally capturing that elusive first championship.  It seems appropriate that their opponent for this day of destiny should be the Dallas Cowboys, a team that has been the cause of so much of their historic misery.

From the Drew Pearson push-off to the Herschel Walker trade, the Cowboys have played the villain as often as any team outside our own division.  Today, the Vikings get a shot at exorcising some of those ghosts.

But enough about history and ghosts and monkeys and age-old grudges.  Today, a football game is going to be played between large men who don’t really care much about that stuff.  For about three hours starting at noon, all that will matter is who does a better job at their job.

For the past few weeks, the Cowboys have been doing a very good job at their job.  If you don’t believe me, just ask the Philadelphia Eagles, who still want to know if anyone got the license plate number of the truck that ran them over, then came back around and ran them over again.

The Cowboys’ performance vs. the Eagles, and even before that against the Saints, would seem a classic case of a team peaking at the right time.  After a season of inconsistency, the Cowboys seemed to figure it all out the last month-plus, and now look as powerful and confident as anyone in the league.

Of course, a team is only as hot as their last play.  Momentum has a funny way of shifting so suddenly, it makes you wonder if momentum even really exists.

Plus, as we learned from yesterday’s pair of playoff beatdowns, it sometimes helps to have that week off.  The Ravens and Cardinals both looked tired and beat up compared to the Saints and Colts, and not surprisingly, both lost.

Then again, it wasn’t like the Cowboys had to exert themselves a ton against the Eagles.  They may not be as fresh as the Vikings, but I doubt they are as worn out as Baltimore or Arizona appeared to be.

The week off edge may not ultimately matter much, but what could matter a lot is the homefield edge.  As the Saints showed us yesterday, a team really can get an emotional lift from the home crowd.  And as the Cardinals showed us, the noise-wave created by all those thousands of  riled-up fans can indeed knock you overboard.

But perhaps even more important than the noise factor is just the home confidence factor.  The Vikings were a demonstrably better team at home all year, more crisp in their offensive execution, more quick and decisive in their defensive reactions.  You can argue that it shouldn’t be this way, that if you’re a good team you should be a good team no matter where you are, but the fact remains, the Vikes need their cozy dome and fast turf to achieve top form.

This discrepancy between home and road performance showed up most glaringly on the defensive line.  At home, the Vikings have had a fearsome pass rush.  On the road, they largely haven’t.  Edge rushers Jared Allen and Ray Edwards seem to benefit the most from being able to push off on the turf and beat their blockers.  Today, they will have the task of chasing down Tony Romo, a quarterback who has a knack for moving and making plays.

The fast track also seems to help the linebackers and defensive backs, but only if they help themselves by wrapping up ball carriers.  The Cowboys have some game-breaking skill players, Felix Jones and Miles Austin in particular, who will only become more spectacular if the Vikings fail to get them on the turf when they have a chance.

The Vikings themselves, of course, have big-time offensive players who can change games in the blink of an eye.  Adrian Peterson, Sidney Rice and Percy Harvin represent as dynamic a trio of playmakers as you will find in the league.  Each will have to make a large impression if the Vikings hope to match what the Cowboys do.

Which brings us back to the trigger-man, Brett Favre.  Favre’s performance will decide if Rice and Harvin get to make big plays, and will decide if Adrian has space to run in.  His reads will do as much to neutralize Dallas’s vaunted pass rush as any effort by the offensive line.  His ability to tear apart a defensive game plan can frustrate players to the point of hopelessness and send coaches scrambling for K-Mart application forms.

In the end, a huge part of the burden is on Favre’s shoulders.  That’s the way he wants it, I’m sure.  And that’s why he was brought here…so the Vikings wouldn’t have to hang their hopes on Tarvaris Jackson or Sage Rosenfels or some other grade-C performer.

It’s because of Favre that the Vikings have a good shot in this game, and a good shot even in the hostile Superdome against the Saints should they make it to next week.  Today, Favre will try to add to a legacy that is already one of the mightiest of all-time.  Today, he will try to carry the Vikings to the threshold of the Super Bowl.

We believe Favre is up to the challenge.  What we don’t know is, are Brad Childress, the coaching staff and the rest of the team also up to the challenge?

Favre has given his teammates confidence all year, and he’s made the coaches look good by his execution and command.  His energy and the energy of all those screaming fans will need to be at a fever pitch.  Then, maybe, today will be a very good day.

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