NFL Playoffs

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  Sunday, Jan. 9 12:35pm ET
Vikings' George earns first playoff win

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) -- Jeff George waited a decade for postseason glory, and his first taste has him hooked.

Jeff George
Jeff George tied a Vikings record by throwing three TD passes in his first playoff victory.
"Long time coming for this and it's nice, but it's just one game," said the cantankerous quarterback with a powerful arm and checkered career who won his first NFL playoff game Sunday.

"This team's ultimate goal, just like everyone else's, is to win a championship," said George, who guided the Minnesota Vikings and their talented receivers and runners past the Dallas Cowboys 27-10 in an NFC wild-card matchup.

George threw touchdown passes of 26 yards to Robert Smith, 58 yards to Randy Moss and five yards to Cris Carter as the Vikings (11-6) advanced to face St. Louis in the divisional round next Sunday.

"They're supposed to be the best. We think we're the best," Moss said of the top-seeded Rams.

"They could be the Vikings of '98," who lost at home in the conference championship, added Moss, who caught five passes for 127 yards. "I don't think the people down in St. Louis would like that comment."

Dallas (8-9) failed to become the first .500 team to win a playoff game following a full season. The Cowboys lost their eighth consecutive road game despite a record-breaking performance by tailback Emmitt Smith, who became the NFL's career leading rusher in the playoffs.

"Eight-and-nine, mediocre, up and down, nothing consistent, consistently bad at times," Smith said of the Cowboys' roller-coaster season. "Showing some signs of brilliance and being a very good ballclub, but a team that couldn't put it all together."

The Vikings have put it together with four consecutive victories.

George lost his only other playoff game, at Green Bay in 1995 when he was with the Atlanta Falcons, one of three teams that ran him out of town before he salvaged his career in Minnesota, where he is 9-2 as the starter.

"A smile goes a long way, and that's something that I haven't been able to do in the last few years," George said. "And just being out there on the field, being around a great group of guys, a great supporting cast, a lot of smiling going on. That stuff's contagious.

Why the Vikings won:
1. The "other" Smith. While all the talk before the game focused on Emmitt Smith, Minnesota's Robert Smith had a monster game. The versatile Vikings back ran 28 times for 140 yards and caught three passes for 58 yards, including a 26-yard TD catch.

2. Rolling Moss. With or without Deion Sanders, Dallas continues to have no answer for Randy Moss. The big-play wideout changed the game by catching a 58-yard TD pass with 28 seconds left in the first half. Moss finished with five catches for 127 yards and has now caught six TD passes in three career games against the Cowboys.

3. Bend but don't break. Although the Vikings allowed 389 yards -- 15 more than the Minnesota offense gained -- the Vikes were able to force Dallas into a mistake each time the Cowboys threatened to make it close.

Why the Cowboys lost:
1. An imperfect 10. The Cowboys committed two turnovers in their own territory that handed the Vikings 10 first-half points. First, Deion Sanders fumbled away a punt, and then fullback Robert Thomas coughed up the ball at the Dallas 23. Sanders' mistake led to a field goal, and Thomas' gaffe led to a touchdown.

2. No takeaways. Minnesota made 40 turnovers during the regular season, but the Cowboys were not able to force a turnover Sunday. Dallas, meanwhile, was guilty of three giveaways.

3. The last straw. Trailing by 17 points, Dallas looked like it might get back into the game before Jason Tucker was stripped of the ball after a first-down reception and fumbled out of the back of the end zone for a touchback with 8:47 left.

Game ball goes to:
Vikings QB Jeff George. In winning a playoff game for the first time in his career, George tied a team record with three TD passes and did not throw an interception.
Up next:
The Vikings will travel to St. Louis for an NFC divisional playoff next Sunday at 12:35 p.m. ET. The two teams did not meet during the regular season. St. Louis had the NFL's No. 1 offense, while Minnesota was No. 3.

"And whether it took me eight or nine years to figure it out, I finally figured it out. And it's a lot of fun."

George started slowly and didn't complete his first pass until the second quarter after Dallas had a 10-3 lead. But he threw a 26-yard screen to Smith for a TD to tie it, then found Moss for the long touchdown 28 seconds before halftime for a 17-10 lead.

George completed 12 of 25 passes for 212 yards and no interceptions. Robert Smith rushed 28 times for 140 yards, breaking his team playoff record of 124 yards set last year.

"It's really special to have a back of that caliber behind me," George said.

Deion Sanders said he couldn't believe the pass-happy Vikings torched the Cowboys on the ground.

"If someone told us we'd hold them to 180 yards passing, we would have done cartwheels on the plane," Sanders said.

"Every time there wasn't a hole," fullback Leroy Hoard said, "we pushed the pile five yards."

Moss dropped what would have been a 60-yard TD catch just after halftime. But he did haul in a 24-yarder that helped set up Gary Anderson's 38-yard field goal that made it 20-10 and gave Anderson an NFL-record 127 points in the playoffs.

Carter, the Vikings' only All-Pro player, didn't catch a pass until 12:40 remained, but it was a 5-yard bullet for a touchdown that made it 27-10.

The Cowboys committed two costly turnovers deep in their territory that led to 10 Minnesota points in the first half.

A punt bounced off Sanders' chest at his 30, and Anderson followed with a 47-yard field goal. Dallas fullback Robert Thomas fumbled at his 23 and Anthony Bass recovered, leading to Robert Smith's TD that tied the score at 10-10. Smith, who didn't play the last time these teams met, juked George Teague to the ground at the 10-yard line and sauntered into the end zone behind a block from Carter.

In the first quarter, Emmitt Smith, who ripped through a porous Minnesota defense in November for 140 yards and two touchdowns in just 1½ quarters before breaking a hand, broke free for a 65-yard run, a Cowboys playoff best. Kenny Wright chased him down at the 3, saving a touchdown that might have been devastating.

"I don't know if it would have changed things, but it would have set a nice tone," Smith said.

The Vikings stuffed Smith twice, and Troy Aikman overthrew David LaFleur, so the Cowboys settled for Eddie Murray's 18-yard field goal and a 3-0 lead.

Sanders' muffed punt was recovered by Minnesota's Dwayne Rudd at the Dallas 30, and Anderson tied it at 3.

Aikman completed passes of 45 and 25 yards to Raghib Ismail on a 79-yard drive Smith capped with a 5-yard cutback run for a 10-3 lead. Smith's 21st playoff TD tied Thurman Thomas' NFL record. Smith also surpassed Franco Harris' playoff record of 1,556 yards rushing on the score.

He finished with 99 yards and 1,586 yards in his postseason career.

Jason Tucker fumbled the ball out of the end zone with 8:47 remaining for a touchback, and Robert Griffith picked off Aikman's pass with 3:37 left.

The Vikings, who had 40 turnovers in the regular season, the most of any playoff team, didn't have any Sunday, compared to Dallas' three.

"I think this was pretty reminiscent of the year we had," Aikman said. "You get in a game like this, and it comes down to a few plays. We had our chances, and we let them get away."

Game notes
George's three TD passes tied a team playoff record. ... Carter wasn't on the field for the Vikings' last play of the first half, a desperation pass, because he had been waiting on the other side of the field so he could get through the tunnel and into the locker room first. ... Both Smiths had rushed for 80 yards by halftime.


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Minnesota Clubhouse

Vikes' Smith puts up healthy numbers

Mistakes spell doomsday for Dallas

Cowboys (8-8) at Vikings (10-6)

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