Posted: Tuesday January 11, 2000 02:57 PM
MINNEAPOLIS (Ticker) -- Robert Smith turned the ignition on the explosive attack of the Minnesota Vikings, then Jeff George went to work with Randy Moss and killed off the Dallas Cowboys.
Smith rushed for a club playoff-record 140 yards and caught a 26-yard scoring pass to lead the Vikings to a 27-10 victory over the Cowboys in an NFC wild card game.
Minnesota (11-6) will meet the NFC West champion St. Louis Rams (13-3) in the divisional playoffs next Sunday.
Smith, a three-time 1,000-yard rusher, showed his all-around versatility on the playoff stage, accounting for 198 yards. He carried 28 times and caught three passes for 58 yards, none bigger than the 26-yard touchdown on 3rd-and-25 play that tied the game at 10-10 in the second quarter.
"I'll keep buying lunches if we keep getting playoff checks," Smith said. "Today, our line just did a great job opening holes."
The Cowboys banked on their front seven to contain Smith and kept their safeties in deep coverage throughout to help out on Pro Bowl receivers Moss and Cris Carter. After George failed to complete a pass in the first quarter, the Vikings began to establish Smith, who rushed for 22 yards on his first four attemps. He finished the half with 80 yards on 14 carries.
"We knew as soon as we got Robert into the flow it would establish a lot of things," George said. "Once he got going, it was huge."
Minnesota snapped the tie and took the lead for good when George connected with Cowboy-killer Moss on a 58-yard scoring bomb with 28 seconds left in the first half.
"I think whenever you get the momentum like that going into halftime, it's huge," George said. "You make a play like that and the defense gets fired up, and it carried over into the second half."
The touchdown came after Vikings coach Dennis Green called for a run on 3rd-and-12 and Smith gained 14 yards up the middle.
"Their coverage was obviously for the pass and the run was there," Green said.
On the next play, Moss split the secondary and caught the touchdown pass while being pushed by cornerback Kevin Mathis, who was called for interference.
"I came off the ball and as soon as I made the turn I had to go up because the ball was in the air," Moss said. "There was a little pass interference, but I had to catch the ball."
Moss finished with five catches for 127 yards. In three games against Dallas, the second-year receiver has 14 receptions for 381 yards and six touchdowns, five of which covered more than 47 yards.
Gary Anderson kicked a 38-yard field goal in the third quarter and George hit Carter with a five-yard TD toss in the fourth to open a 27-10 lead. It was the only catch of the game for Carter, who was often covered by Pro Bowl cornerback Deion Sanders.
George, who led the Vikings to an 8-2 record after he took the starting job from Randall Cunningham, was 12-of-25 for 212 yards and three touchdowns.
Dallas, one of two 8-8 teams to make the playoffs, self-destructed with four turnovers. Both first-half turnovers set up Minnesota's first 10 points.
"We made too many mistakes," said Cowboys coach Chan Gailey.
"There were turnovers, dropped passes and mental mistakes. With those types of things, you don't give yourself a great chance to win."
Sanders muffed a punt and linebacker Dwayne Rudd recovered for the Vikings at the Dallas 30. Four plays later, Anderson kicked a 47-yard field goal to tie it at 3-3 with 7:59 left in the first quarter.
The Cowboys took a 10-3 lead on a five-yard touchdown run by Emmitt Smith with five minutes left in the opening period. Troy Aikman hit Rocket Ismail with passes of 45 and 25 yards to set up the score. Ismail had eight receptions for 163 yards.
However, the Vikings took advantage of another turnover to tie it again. Cowboys fullback Robert Thomas caught a screen pass but had the ball stripped by Rudd and safety Anthony Bass recovered for Minnesota at the Dallas 26.
The Vikings cashed in when Robert Smith turned a short pass from George into a 26-yard touchdown on 3rd-and-25 with 9:21 left in the half. With the secondary doubling on the receivers, Smith made the catch at the 22, faked safety George Teague at the 12 and raced untouched into the end zone as Carter blocked nickel back Charlie Williams.
"I left him too much room," Teague said. "Down the sideline he gave me a litle fake, froze me and off he went."
Dallas' other two turnovers came deep in Minnesota territory in the fourth quarter and squelched scoring threats. Rookie Jason Tucker caught a 13-yard pass but had the ball stripped by linebacker Ed McDaniel and it rolled through the end zone for a touchback with 8:47 left.
The Cowboys later reached the Minnesota 6, but Aikman's pass for Tucker was intercepted in the end zone by safety Robert Griffith.
Emmitt Smith finished with 99 yards on 15 carries, making him the all-time playoff leader with 1,586 yards. Franco Harris held the record with 1,556 yards. Smith broke off a 65-yard run in the first quarter to set up a field goal by Eddie Murray, but rushed for only 30 yards on his other 14 carries.
"I thought we played good run defense except for one play," Green said. "We had good penetration throughout the game."
Aikman, one of only three quarterbacks to win three Super Bowls, lost in the wild card round for the second straight year. He has an 11-4 career postseason record. Today, Aikman completed 22-of-38 for 286 yards with an interception.
"When you get in a game like this it comes down to a few plays," he said. "They made the most of their opportunities and made some big plays, and we failed to do that. We had our chances and we let them get away."
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