Two years ago, Saints quarterback Drew Brees had an outside chance to set the NFL single-game record for passing yardage against the Vikings. But with New Orleans leading handily, he bowed out gracefully in the fourth quarter with 412 yards through the air.
Does Tony Romo of the Cowboys have a similar opportunity to make history Sunday against the Vikings?
Norm Van Brocklin holds the top spot for his 554-yard performance with the Los Angeles Rams on Sept. 28, 1951.
But AT&T Stadium in Dallas could be the site where the 62-year-old record is threatened by Romo — a three-time Pro Bowler who has a 500-yard game this season — against a very depleted Vikings secondary.
Romo’s 506 yards in a loss to the Broncos on Oct. 6 rank 12th all-time in a single game. Three of the top 10 in the category came last season, including the second most in history by Houston’s Matt Schaub, who fell 27 yards short of tying Van Brocklin against the Jaguars.
The Vikings, who rank 29th in the league in pass defense, will be without starting safeties Harrison Smith and Jamarca Sanford, and cornerback Chris Cook, all of whom are injured.
“The [Cowboys] have some weapons and we’ll have to contend with them, and our guys will have to stand up because we need them,” Vikings head coach Leslie Frazier said. “We need them to play well against a team that can throw the ball extremely well and protect as well.”
Rookie Xavier Rhodes is the tallest of the healthy Vikings corners at 6-1; Josh Robinson and Marcus Sherels are 5-10. Dallas receivers Dez Bryant and rookie Terrance Williams are both 6-2.
In the absence of Miles Austin (hamstring injury), Williams has stepped in as another weapon for Romo alongside Bryant and tight end Jason Witten. Williams has a touchdown, including 82 and 60 yarders, in four consecutive games.
“He’s really one of those guys we’ve seen develop almost day-by-day over the course of the last six months,” Cowboys coach Jason Garrett said. “He’s a very serious minded guy, and he takes in the coaching. He’s learned from the experiences he’s had. He’s really developed a lot of confidence in himself.”
The Cowboys have been without running back DeMarco Murray (knee), and have relied on Romo to carry the offense this season. They’re 27th in run offense, averaging 80.6 yards, with Romo accounting for 277 passing yards a game.
”[Romo’s] a great competitor,” Garrett said. “He understands you win games a lot of different ways and you have to handle the adversity of the game. It’s a rare game where everything you call and everything you do is perfect.”
When the Vikings went 3-13 in 2011, they seemed to be ripe for Brees setting a passing record on Dec. 18 at the Metrodome. He went 32 of 40 for 412 yards and five touchdowns before giving way to backup Chase Daniel in the fourth quarter, concluding his day on a 19-play, 87-yard touchdown drive that lasted 10:36.
Usually high passing yardage outputs come in close games. The Dallas defense has struggled this season as well, so it’s not unthinkable the game will be high scoring.
Romo downplayed what seems like an advantageous situation in a conference call with Twin Cities reporters this week.
“I know last week they gave up some points to Green Bay, but they’re a pretty good unit,” Romo said. “I think they want to pressure us with a little shell coverage, we call it, that’s where they keep the safeties helping the corners. But we’re expecting a pretty good game.”