MINNEAPOLIS - After another flat first half by Brett Favre and the Minnesota Vikings, Randy Moss riled them up and Percy Harvin heeded the message.
The Dallas Cowboys went home again unhappily, wondering what is happening to what was supposed to be a special season.
Harvin's 95-yard kickoff return for a touchdown was just the spark the Vikings needed to overcome another uneven offensive game in a 24-21 victory over the Cowboys on Sunday.
"We were desperate. You heard the panic word all week," said E.J. Henderson, who intercepted Tony Romo twice to set up 10 points for the Vikings.
The Vikings (2-3) won this matchup of preseason NFC favorites, though even in defeat the Cowboys (1-4) could still wind up as contenders in a mediocre conference in which all of the 16 teams already have at least two losses.
This was hardly consolation for the Cowboys, who will watch another team win the Super Bowl on their home turf if they can't stop all this self-inflicted damage. It wasn't just Romo. They had 11 penalties for 91 yards, and the strategy on both sides of the ball seemed out of sync.
"We beat ourselves one more time," wide receiver Roy Williams said. "How many times are we going to do it?"
Favre had a cortisone injection earlier in the week that helped his ailing elbow feel better, but he took a bunch of big hits from a fierce Cowboys rush. Coach Brad Childress wasn't concerned: "We're paying him enough a game. He's going to get hit."
Finishing 14 for 19 for 118 yards, one touchdown and one turnover, Favre was at least more on target than the week before. Though the one fumble in the first quarter was charged to Favre for his 11th turnover this season, Childress blamed that on Adrian Peterson for not fully closing his arms around the ball.
Still, Favre looked skittish at times and was hit on eight of his first 10 dropbacks, taking three sacks. One of them lost 12 yards on third-and-7 at the Dallas 30 when he did a pirouette around the pocket instead of getting rid of the ball. That pushed the Vikings out of field-goal range midway through the third.
But Harvin's huge return and Peterson's short touchdown plunge put the Vikings ahead 21-14, and the defense did enough to preserve an important victory. Favre downplayed another low-production performance.
"We got Randy Moss. Everyone thinks I'm going to throw for 400 yards," said Favre, who is to meet with the NFL on Tuesday about the alleged racy messages he sent to a former New York Jets employee.
The scandal, he said, hasn't affected him.
"I don't feel any added pressure. The fact that we were 1-3 was enough," Favre said.
Moss' first home game since rejoining the Vikings in trade turned into an afterthought. He finished with five catches for 55 yards, but his biggest contribution might have been in the locker room at the half. Both Childress and Favre credit Moss for encouraging his teammates to create more energy for the second half.
The Cowboys kicked off to Harvin, and off he went.
"Surprised a little bit. But my eyes get kind of big. I'm starting to get in the flow of the game," Harvin said. "These past three weeks I feel probably the healthiest I've felt in a long time. So bring it."
Romo, who found Williams for touchdowns twice in the first half, went 24 for 32 for 220 yards mostly on dump-offs and screens. Romo then hit rookie Dez Bryant from 31 yards with 10:18 left to tie the game at 21, but the two pickoffs by Henderson deep in Dallas territory were costly.
The second one set up Ryan Longwell's 38-yard field goal with 4:05 remaining that put Minnesota in front 24-21, and the Vikings — pressuring Romo and stopping the run just like they did in the playoff game last season — promptly forced a three-and-out.
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A TD with 73 seconds left after a pass interference flag capped a N.Y. rally for a 24-20 win against the Broncos.
"He made a good play," Romo said of Henderson's second grab. "I thought he was rushing, and he did a good job of coming out."
Both scores by Williams came on quick slant patterns against Lito Sheppard, moved up on Minnesota's depth chart at cornerback with Cedric Griffin and Chris Cook out, and Sheppard was on the coverage, too, when he tipped the ball too late and Bryant caught his own bobble for the tying score.
Despite the lack of depth at a critical position for the Vikings, the Cowboys played a conservative game, even with Romo coming off a 400-yard performance the previous week.
"We really didn't expect it," Henderson said. "I expected them to take some shots down the middle of the field."
Cowboys wide receiver Miles Austin had a tough first half. He was flagged for excessive celebration when he leapfrogged Williams in the end zone after the first touchdown. Then, he got called for pass interference on what would've been his 68-yard touchdown catch and run when his one-handed shove of Asher Allen sent the Vikings cornerback falling to the turf.
After Bryant's touchdown, Austin simply came over and shook his hand.
Coach Wade Phillips was not amused.
"We need to celebrate after we win the game," he said.
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