Cowboys expect to handle loud Metrodome 

Cowboys linebacker Keith Brooking remembers the loudest game of his career coming in Minnesota's Metrodome.

And he remembers winning it — a victory that sent his team to the Super Bowl.

Brooking also remembers that the loudest game Dallas played this year was indoors, at New Orleans' Superdome.

He remembers winning that one, too.

So as the Cowboys prepare for a trip to Minnesota for a second-round playoff game on Sunday, the message from the Dallas locker room is clear: Bring it on, Vikings fans; make all the noise y'all want.

"We have pretty good experience facing a hostile crowd," Brooking said. "The way you have to handle the situation is, obviously, you can't allow them to get the momentum going early in the game. You've got to go for their heart. If you can put a little doubt in their minds in the beginning, that can go a long way. ... But we've got to be ready for a 3½-hour battle and fight to the end."

The Cowboys followed that game plan four weeks ago in New Orleans. They jumped on the Saints with two quick touchdowns, silencing the crowd with a 14-0 lead. Dallas remained in front all night, but things got shaky — and loud — in the fourth quarter.

New Orleans scored two touchdowns and was driving for the potential tying score when the Cowboys staved off Drew Brees and the inspiration of the New Orleans fans to hold on for the win. Dallas hasn't lost since, winning four in a row, including its first playoff victory in 13 years.

"I think it does help that we played in New Orleans," Cowboys coach Wade Phillips said. "We have to have the same kind of focus and concentration that we did in that game. ... It'll be loud in there, but that's part of being the visitor in this league."

To get acclimated, or at least try to, Dallas practiced Thursday at its domed stadium with a recording of crowd noise cranked up.

While it's not the same blood-pumping atmosphere as a packed stadium, the deafening sounds forced the offense to work off gestures instead of commands hollered by quarterback Tony Romo, and the defense had to respond to movement instead of the quarterback's voice.

Crowds are generally loudest when the visitors have the ball; after all, they don't want to drown out their own quarterback's signal-calling. At Dallas home games, the team even reminds fans of this by putting a sign on the video board that reads: "Quiet. Offense at work."

Romo knows what to expect and is already plotting how to counter it.

"There are going to be a lot of little things that come up that I won't be able to say as we're leaving the huddle or at the line of scrimmage," Romo said. "(You have to) be prepared for what could happen. Tell them in the huddle before go out there different things you won't be able to say because it will be too loud. Things like that I'll have to think a little extra on."

The burden isn't only on Romo. It's actually tougher for the other 10 guys, who have to be tuned in to him.

"An atmosphere like that, (we're) more tight in the huddle so we hear every word that comes out of the quarterback's mouth," receiver Roy Williams said. "The snap count is big. You can't hear him saying 'down, set, hut,' and on the defensive side of the ball they're trying to get us to jump offside. We have to be together as a unit."

Stats indicate how much crowd noise can help a defense.

The leading sack artist in home games this season: New Orleans' Will Smith, with 10. He had three on the road.

Second on the list: Minnesota's Jared Allen, with 9½. He had five on the road.

Their common denominator, of course, is a roof that traps in the noise.

"New Orleans was kind of loud as well, but I think Minnesota is the loudest," said Williams, who used to play there every year when he was with the Detroit Lions. "They are the only team out of 32 teams that when you watch film, it shakes."

The Saints and Vikings also fed off their dome-field advantages to grab the top two seeds in the NFC. Minnesota benefited most, going 8-0 at home.

The success of both teams starts with talented players and coaches who can get the most out of them. Still, the so-called 12th man can only help, and at this time of year, teams need every little edge they can get.

"The crowd makes it hard on the other team's offense to function," Vikings center John Sullivan said. "We feed off that in every facet of the game."

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Staff Report

Staff Report

A daily newspaper covering San Francisco, San Mateo County and serving Alameda, Marin and Santa Clara counties.
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