MINNEAPOLIS - Time will soon tell whether these were the real Minnesota Vikings. For now, they sure finished the regular season on a strong note.
Brett Favre and the rest of his teammates did everything right that went wrong in December, aggressively pursuing the swagger they had before the slump to move into the playoffs with a 44-7 victory over the barely-there New York Giants on Sunday.
“I think it’s proof of what we’re capable of doing,” said Favre, who completed 25 of 31 passes for 316 yards and four touchdowns in less than three quarters without a turnover. “Where it takes us from here, I have no idea. But it was definitely a momentum boost and confidence.”
Controlling the game from the very first drive against a Giants team sitting five players who started at least four games this season, the Vikings (12-4) cruised into the locker room to start watching the Philadelphia-Dallas game, sounding unconcerned about the outcome.
When the Cowboys emerged with a 24-0 victory, the Vikings became the No. 2 seed behind sputtering New Orleans in the NFC field with a bye for the first round.
Favre surpassed 30 touchdowns for the ninth time in his career and 4,000 yards for the sixth time, finishing with a mere seven interceptions — the fewest of his 18-year run as a starter.
He made it through 16 games without much harm, either.
“Everyone wants to talk about me being 40. I’m fine,” Favre said, weighing the pros and cons of the bye while declaring himself fit for the playoff run either way. “Would it help? I’m sure it would. But I’m fine.”
The Vikings have questions about their offensive line and secondary to answer, but they can forget about one worry already: They’re guaranteed to play inside until the Super Bowl in sunny Miami. They’ll have at least one game at the comfy Metrodome, where they went 8-0 for the first time since going 15-1 in 1998.
After ugly defeats in three nationally televised night games last month that ruined their chance to catch the Saints for pre-Super Bowl home-field advantage and exposed a few troubling flaws, the Vikings were determined to regain their edge.
They tried 35 passes and ran only 22 times during the first three quarters, even keeping the offense on the field for fourth-and-goal at the 1 on Favre’s final possession. He capped it with a touchdown pass to fullback Naufahu Tahi to make it 44-0.
Childress attempted to downplay the aggressiveness, but cornerback Cedric Griffin said the coaches emphasized “having a statement game” before the playoffs.
“Just wanted to stay on the gas,” Childress said.
The Giants, who held out lead running back Brandon Jacobs and starting offensive linemen Rich Seubert and Kareem McKenzie, totaled 13 penalties for 95 yards.
“I do think we tried,” coach Tom Coughlin said, adding: “I’m not going to say it was a great performance, but they all came to the stadium wanting to play.”
Sidney Rice caught six passes for 112 yards and two touchdowns, and tight end Visanthe Shiancoe had seven receptions for 94 yards and a score, all in the first half. Adrian Peterson scored his 18th touchdown, only carrying the ball nine times for 54 yards. Childress chalked that up simply to “luck of the draw” on how the Vikings attacked the defense.
While the Giants (8-8) gained only 73 yards in the first three quarters, the Vikings sailed up and down the field and posted their highest score of the season.
The nation grieved for those hurt, killed and affected by the Boston Marathon bombings. After one of the suspects was caught on Friday — following a day-long lockdown and manhunt — sports returned to Boston over the weekend.
“It felt good just to be back in rhythm offensively,” Peterson said. “The defensive side looked good too. That’s definitely the way you want to enter the playoffs.”
After whipping Washington and putting themselves in solid position for a playoff spot, the Giants were blown out at home last week by Carolina and will miss the postseason for the first time in five years.
“Playing like that two weeks in a row is disrespectful to the logo that’s on our helmet,” center Shaun O’Hara said. “The Giants franchise, organization and fans deserve better than they received the last two weeks from the players.”
Eli Manning threw an interception and lost a fumble. He missed his chance to set the franchise record for single-season yards passing, finishing 17 for 23 for 141 yards.
“I’m really confused. We were playing so well at Washington and had an opportunity, and I don’t know what happened to get to this point,” Manning said.
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