Vikings' D Steals Show From Cowboys
"Because I won," Edwards said with a grin the size of the Metrodome roof.
Edwards is the Vikings' defensive end you don't know -- the one who plays on the opposite side of the more colorful, more quotable and more famous Jared Allen. But on Sunday, Edwards and Allen were just two-fourths of a Minnesota defensive front that propelled the Vikings into the NFC championship game with a 34-3 dismantling of the formerly red-hot Cowboys.
"Our defensive line has really carried our defense," Vikings defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier said. "We led the league in sacks for a reason, you know. We have some guys who can get to the quarterback."
The Vikings sacked Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo six times Sunday. Edwards, thriving against Dallas right tackle Marc Colombo as the Cowboys focused their attention on Allen, got three of those sacks. Minnesota created pressure from the ends and pressure up the middle with star defensive tackles Kevin Williams and Pat Williams. They fed off the crowd noise in the Metrodome and used it to their advantage against a Cowboys offense that felt limited by it.
"They're just ... they're good. And they're tough here," Romo said of the Vikings' D. "They're really good playing at their place and in this environment because it allows them to get off the ball quickly and do what they're built to do. It would have helped tremendously if I'd been able to use some variance of the snap count or some other things that might have helped, but you can't do that when it's this loud."
The Vikings' defense had other reasons to be fired up. A week's worth of national attention paid to the Cowboys' defense had tugged at the Vikings' pride. So many questions were asked of the Vikings about how they were going to handle the Cowboys' pass rush, and nobody seemed to be asking the Cowboys how they were going to handle the Vikings' pass rush. And as Frazier pointed out, it was the Vikings, not the Cowboys, who led the league in sacks this year.
"It is what it is -- they're America's Team," Vikings tight end Visanthe Shiancoe said. "They've got the star, the big old new stadium and all that. But they came to the 'hood today. We've still got the 'hood."
To be clear, the Vikings weren't interested in putting down the Cowboys' defense. They respect those guys greatly and thought they actually played a pretty decent game in spots.
"Anthony Spencer is an absolute monster, man," Shiancoe said. "He deserves every accolade he gets. We had problems with him, let me tell you. I'm usually a hater, but even I can't hate on him."
But no matter how good Spencer and DeMarcus Ware and Jay Ratliff are, the Vikings feel like they have a pretty outstanding defense themselves. And that defense is the biggest reason -- even bigger than Brett Favre and Sidney Rice, who were undeniably brilliant -- the Vikings are headed to New Orleans to play the NFC championship game next weekend.
"We might bend, but we don't break," Pat Williams said. "We got to Romo all day. We were knocking down balls and doing everything like we're supposed to. It didn't matter who they had back there. At the end of the day, we got the W and they got ate up. We got the high score and they got the low score. They're going back to Dallas and we're still chilling here."
The Cowboys went home grumpy about the loss, grumpy about their inability to get anything going all day on offense, grumpy about the late Vikings touchdown they considered unnecessary and, in the words of Cowboys linebacker Keith Brooking, "classless."
But Williams is right. The simplest and most important fact is that the Cowboys are done and the Vikings, thanks to their own unheralded defense, are moving on.
"People weren't paying attention to us," Edwards said. "But that's OK. We like it like that. We'll stay in the background and catch 'em by surprise."
Edwards caught everybody by surprise with the three sacks in his first career playoff game. He had to leave the game with a knee injury, and Frazier said the team was concerned because of how vital Edwards is, but Edwards didn't seem to think the knee would be a problem next week. He was grinning -- the game of his life in the books and his buddy's helmet stashed behind him on a shelf in his locker.
"We didn't no anything special," he said. "Just what we did all year."
Whether anybody's been noticing or not.