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Cowboys poised to make noise

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ARLINGTON, Texas – As the Dallas Cowboys dispatched the Philadelphia Eagles in roughly the time it takes to watch an animated film, there was half a game left to consider the most important question of the coming week.

Who is going to flinch first, the once-questionable Cowboys or Minnesota quarterback Brett Favre(notes), a gun-slinging quarterback who can often be an incarnation of William Munny at his best?

Or Barney Fife at his worst.

Both Dallas and Favre are haunted by years of questions. The Cowboys erased some with their first playoff victory since 1996, back when the last remnants of their Jimmy Johnson-driven dynasty were still around. Coincidentally, that was also the year Favre won his only Super Bowl.

Since then, the Cowboys and Favre have combined to be the most talked about franchise and player in the NFL, respectively. Yet, neither has done anything of substance when it comes to winning.

"This is a great win for us as a team, as a franchise, but it's not our ultimate goal," said Cowboys linebacker Keith Brooking(notes), who jokingly took the imaginary monkey off coach Wade Phillips' back toward the end of the game and again in the locker room afterward.

Phillips still has a reputation for late-season chokes, but he took a big chunk out of it with this win. That said, either the Cowboys or Favre will get a chance to break that run of frustration in the second round of the playoffs after Dallas beat the E-, A- and G- out of Philly. By the time the Cowboys completed their 34-14 first-round victory, all the Eagles were left with was "les."

Most noticeably, Philly quarterback Donovan McNabb(notes) was a twitching, twittering, dancing mess. Dallas harassed him time and again, limiting him to 19 of 37 for 230 yards, one touchdown, one interception, a fumble, four sacks and an intentional grounding penalty.

And if you got a chance to really watch this performance, McNabb was worse than those numbers showed. Not that it was entirely his fault. The Eagles' pass protection was awful, with McNabb scrambling for his life play after play.

"We were in his face a lot, making him move, making him run for his life," linebacker Anthony Spencer(notes) said. "If we can do that, we can play with anybody in these playoffs."

Beyond the Philly offense and McNabb, the Eagles defense was terrible, giving up one big play after another on the way to a 27-7 halftime deficit. The Cowboys finished with 228 yards passing and 198 rushing, including 148 yards on 16 carries by Felix Jones(notes).

The fact is, any postmortem on this game is a waste of time. As Dallas showed in sweeping Philadelphia all three times this season, it's simply a bad matchup for the Eagles, who just can't block the Cowboys' defensive front.

If that holds true in the second round (and there's plenty of reason to believe it will), Minnesota's leaky offensive line and Favre are in serious danger.

Sadly, that's mostly because of Favre.

Favre, 40, is coming off a truly phenomenal season. He posted the best quarterback rating of his career (107.2) as he tossed 33 touchdown passes against only seven interceptions. It's the kind of performance that deserves scientific study.

"To me, I don't see a guy with 40-year-old legs," Brooking said. "To me, I see a guy with a cannon arm who can still throw rockets all over the field. … He looks really comfortable in that offense."

Maybe, but if you look really close, there are still the hints about the Favre of old, the guy who has spent one postseason after another throwing one ugly interception after another.

The last time Favre wasn't to blame for his team losing in the playoffs was the Super Bowl against Denver after the 1997 season. Since then, he has thrown at least two interceptions in five of his team's six playoff losses. The lone exception was in the 2003 playoffs, when he lobbed a game-killing pick late at Philadelphia.

The lowlights in that run of postseasons were his six-interception game against St. Louis, four more against Minnesota and two pitiful picks in his last playoff game in Green Bay against the New York Giants in the NFC Championship Game two seasons ago.

Of course, plenty of people will point out that Favre has running back Adrian Peterson next to him.

"They have more than one weapon on that team, so it's going to be a challenge for us," Dallas defensive tackle Jay Ratliff(notes) said.

True, and there's no one who would say that Peterson is anything less than extremely dangerous. But for those who say that the Vikings will simply run the ball, well, that's a nice theory, but it's not reality.

Over the final six games of the regular season, Favre has taken over the offense. In five of those games, he has thrown at least 30 passes, including three with 40 or more.

By contrast, Favre threw 30 or more times only twice in the first 10 games. By the way, The Vikings were 9-1 over the first 10 games and 3-3 over the final six.

That included a four-game stretch in December when Favre was sacked 12 times. The Vikings lost three times, leading to the infamous melting of minds between Favre and Minnesota coach Brad Childress.

The bottom line is this: Favre is reverting to what most players become when times get tough … themselves. When the game is on the line, Favre wants the ball. Problem is, he hasn't really come through in a long time.

Then again, until Saturday night, neither had the Cowboys.

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