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They were glimmers of hope in the running game, especially going right at All-Pro DE Jared Allen in the early going. But there were far too many negative plays, which were drive killers because they allowed the Vikings' pass rushers to pin their ears back. Six of the Cowboys' running backs' 23 carries resulted in losses. Felix Jones (14 carries, 69 yards) had a decent day. Marion Barber (eight carries, 14 yards) had a miserable homecoming in the stadium where he played college football for Minnesota. The most important running play of the game occurred when DE Ray Edwards tackled Barber for a 7-yard loss on first down deep in Minnesota territory early in the third quarter, killing the momentum the Cowboys were trying to build.
Tony Romo had no rhythm, no time and no chance. He committed as many turnovers (three) -- matching his total from the previous eight games -- as the Cowboys scored points. The pressure from the Vikings' phenomenal front four was overwhelming, resulting in six sacks and forcing Romo (22-of-35, 198 yards) to run for his life on a regular basis. Forget about the vertical passing game if a quarterback can't even set his feet after a five-step drop. The wide receivers, as Roy Williams said, "were just out there," combining for only 51 yards on six catches.
All-Pro RB Adrian Peterson didn't hurt the Cowboys, averaging only 2.6 yards per carry. Once again, Anthony Spencer was a dominant force against the run, making three tackles in the backfield. The defensive line didn't give Peterson much room to run, and when he did get to the second level, the inside linebackers and safeties did a sound job of tackling him. Chester Taylor and Percy Harvin each had 14-yard runs, but the Minnesota running game had minimal impact on the outcome.
Brett Favre had an eye-popping passer rating of 134.4, completing 15 of 24 passes for 234 yards and four touchdowns with no turnovers. Sidney Rice tied an NFL playoff record with three touchdown passes, two of which came on deep balls when he was one-on-one with a Dallas defensive back. Rice was targeted seven times, catching six passes for 141 yards. The Cowboys sacked Favre three times, but they didn't get consistent pressure on him, allowing him to have a Hall of Fame-caliber performance.
This might have been a different game if Shaun Suisham delivered. His two missed field goals -- from 48 and 49 yards -- forced the Cowboys into desperation come-from-behind mode. It was a fitting end to a season marred by field goal problems. The Cowboys' return game didn't provide a spark, but the Cowboys didn't give the Vikings' dangerous return specialists a chance to make an impact. Both of David Buehler's kickoffs were deep into the end zone, forcing Pro Bowl returner Percy Harvin to take a knee. None of Mat McBriar's three punts were returned. He averaged 45.7 yards and pinned the Vikings inside their 20 twice.