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For Favre to be a success with Vikes, his best must come in playoffs

EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- Tarvaris Jackson and Gus Frerotte helped the Vikings win the NFC North and earn a home playoff game last season. That puts Brett Favre on equal footing with them. All the drama the Vikings went through to get him to Minnesota, all the drama he provided -- MVP good and momentarily petulant -- wasn't meant to get to this point.

Favre, 40, was nudged off his brief stay on his John Deere this summer to get Minnesota to the Super Bowl -- and win it. Such a feat would make him a greater legend than Paul Bunyan in these parts since the fondest memories the Vikings provided in four Super Bowl trips ended in losses.

Billick: How to stop Favre

The key to stopping Brett Favre is making the Vikings' offense one-dimensional.

If the Cowboys can shut the run down early and limit the effectiveness of Adrian Peterson, forcing Favre to throw the ball 35-40 times, that's the key to forcing him into turnovers.

You want to get Favre moving to his left, if you can. When Favre moves to his right, with his ability to throw the ball on the move, he can be lethal. In terms of coverages, you can't make it simple for Favre. But you have to keep in mind, what are you going to show him that he hasn't seen before?

Protecting Favre is my No. 1 concern for Minnesota. Dallas can come at you with so many different people from DeMarcus Ware to Anthony Spencer to Bradie James to Jay Ratliff. Bryant McKinnie on the left side should be OK, but protecting rookie Phil Loadholt on the right side will be an issue.

-- Brian Billick

So far, Favre has been an ample ringer, but this is where all things matter. Jackson started last season's first-round playoff loss and it became clear heading into this season, he hadn't progressed enough to get the Vikings any further. Enter Favre. He has 22 games worth of playoff experience, going 12-10 with a Super Bowl victory to his credit.

Those credentials are nice for background, but do they matter now?

"When I looked at this season and came in, I envisioned this situation," Favre said. "I saw us in this moment and getting ready to play this game. I envisioned us winning and going on but this feels right to me. Every game is different, every situation, although very similar is different in itself. I've been in the playoffs before. I've been in first-round games, second-round games, against Dallas, against this team, against that team, favored, whatever. None of that will help this week."

Coach Brad Childress said having Favre doesn't guarantee a Super Bowl berth, but he'd rather roll with No. 4 than with a "Wet-behind-the-ears guy."

Favre will be facing the Dallas defense in the divisional round on Sunday which is on a merciless tear. Its success and, in Favre's words, "dominant" play, has been balanced by an offense that could stress every fiber of the Vikings' defense. It's a game where strengths meet strengths and Favre could end up posting the swing vote. Favre cited the strategy and schemes Arizona and Carolina used to confuse Minnesota, especially on third down, and said Dallas could pose more of a problem.

Keep in mind, the Vikings lost to the Cardinals and Panthers in December, both in convincing manner. That's what adds to the intrigue of Favre's first playoff game for Minnesota. The Vikings went from dominant to vulnerable down the stretch, losing three of their final five games, but closing things out with a resounding 44-7 victory over the toothless Giants in the finale.

Through it all, Favre has been efficient and potent at the same time, throwing 33 touchdowns and just seven interceptions while posting a career-high 107.2 passer rating.

He's shown a restraint on the field that has us wondering if he's actually settled down or, if he's going to revert into the gambler who resorts to old habits of forcing throws into traffic when things get sticky, like in his last playoff game. Favre's bad interception in overtime of the 2007 NFC Championship Game allowed the Giants to kick the winning field goal and go to the Super Bowl.

Things could get sticky against the Cowboys, who've allowed just 31 points in their current four-game winning streak. Whichever course he takes, Favre best choose correctly because so much has been leveraged -- particularly fan faith -- on his success.

Childress, whose late-season rub with Favre about pulling him out of the Carolina game turned into a bigger issue when it was disclosed the two didn't see eye-to-eye about Favre allegedly changing plays, said Wednesday that none of the QB's postseason experience means anything if the Vikings don't win. Favre has to deliver.

Childress didn't put it all on Favre, noting that everyone has to hold up his end of the deal since the Cowboys are such a formidable foe. But Childress is hoping that Favre leads the way because the coach's reputation could take a hit since he was the one who pushed so hard to get Favre last summer, when a younger Jay Cutler could have been a consolation prize.

Besides Favre playing well and taking care of the ball, one Vikings assistant coach said that tailback Adrian Peterson, who has gone seven consecutive games without reaching 100 yards rushing, needs to have a big day. That's pretty obvious, but he didn't say Peterson needed to capitalize on holes the line provides or things like that. He said Peterson needs to step up. If Favre has to man up, so does Peterson and that means making things happen that he might not have made happen in the regular season.

If Peterson is to get going, the offensive line, which hasn't been as effective as its reputation, must be at its best. It has to get some push against a defense that doesn't budge against the run. The line has to be even better protecting Favre in passing situations.

If the Cowboys' frightening front of Jay Ratliff, Anthony Spencer, DeMarcus Ware, Bradie James and Keith Brooking gets after Favre like they did Philadelphia's Donovan McNabb over two straight weeks, it could be a very long day.

The biggest concern is slowing Ratliff. The Pro Bowl defensive tackle is quick and strong, which could give him a serious edge against Vikings center John Sullivan. If Ratliff starts blowing through gaps or, in Childress' words, "walking" the center backwards, the Vikings' backfield traffic could be disrupted in a major way.

Ware and Spencer present other problems. Left tackle Bryant McKinnie has struggled at times against speed rushers and Ware is the best. He also uses an effective inside move to confuse tackles and disrupt running and passing lanes. Rookie right tackle Phil Loadholt is much better as a run blocker and Spencer could pose a matchup nightmare. One Vikings coach said other than Ratliff, no Vikings defender is playing better than Spencer. He's not yielding against the run and has been a force in getting to the quarterback.

Childress said the Vikings plan to chip, bump and double Dallas' rushers. Still, the Cowboys stunt and loop so much that plans to double-team with a tight end or chip with a running back could be a gamble. They can get caught in poor alignments because the defensive players could vacate their position on a twist or stunt, which could lead to chaos.

Favre also said the Cowboys get pressure by rushing just four or five and can drop everyone else in coverage. That makes it rough in all stages because Favre knows he has limited time to get rid of the ball but there won't be many open areas to throw to. That's where Favre's restraint will be tested.

Establish some semblance of a running game will keep the Cowboys honest to some degree, McKinnie said. But there also are simpler things to get Dallas on its heels. Changing the tempo, tone and speed of the snap count will help. McKinnie didn't go as far as to say the Eagles failed to mix things up in their two recent wipeout losses to the Cowboys in which Philadelphia's offense was stuck in mud, but he seemed to imply it.

Getting ahead early also will change the flow of things. Dallas has been dominating on defense because it's played with sizeable leads and forced opposing offenses into a pass-first strategy.

In this best-case scenario, things will still fall back on Favre. He will have to play well because that's what he was brought here to do. If he doesn't, things could unravel and questions about his and the Vikings' future will dog him beginning right after the final whistle. Favre is signed for another year but there's no reason to think he won't do the retirement boogie again after this season.

His surgically repaired shoulder has held up well, as has the rest of his body. Favre's isn't sure he's on borrowed time, but he's played long enough to know that things might not pan out as well next season -- if he comes back. They could, but why not seize the moment?

"All I want to do is beat Dallas," Favre said. "To even think about next year is doing myself an injustice and this team (an injustice). I came here for one reason and that's to lead this team to a Super Bowl this year, not next year."

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