There was an intriguing spoil of battle on the top shelf of Ray Edwards' locker: a helmet that was unmistakably painted in the silver and blue of the Dallas Cowboys.

"That belonged to Anthony Spencer,'' Edwards said. "He gave it to me after the game."

Spencer and Edwards were defensive teammates and close friends at Purdue. Did that make the souvenir helmet part of a pregame bet?

"It wasn't a bet,'' Edwards said. "We just met on the field after the game and Anthony said, 'You beat us. Here's your trophy.' "

The Vikings opened as 2 1/2-point favorites and moved to 3, yet many legendary football observers made a case for the Cowboys based largely on this:

The Vikings' Brett Favre would have less time to throw facing the outside rush of Spencer and DeMarcus Ware than would the Cowboys' Tony Romo going against Edwards and Jared Allen.

Edwards put the lie to that analysis on the game's first possession. The Cowboys ran nine plays and had a couple of first downs, but in the process the Vikings' left end did the following:

Hurried Romo into an incompletion as he delivered the first big hit on the quarterback. Corralled running back Felix Jones for a 4-yard loss back to the Vikings 38. Then, on third-and-14, drilled Romo and caused a fumble that was recovered by tackle Kevin Williams.

Edwards finished his first playoff game (he was injured last January) with this stat line: five tackles (four for loss), three sacks for a team playoff record minus-23 yards and six hurries on the quarterback.

He also missed the late stages of the game because of a sore knee. "I feel like I'm going to be 100 percent next week, but what it is ... I have to go check with the docs,'' he said.

In 2008, Edwards was a third-year player and decided to offer publicly an ambitious goal: a prediction that he would break the single-season record for sacks.

It didn't quite work out. And on Sunday, the Edwards meeting with reporters after a stupendous effort in his first playoff victory was a much more soft-spoken fellow.

He said his coaches had offered exceptional preparation and he simply was reading his keys. He added that outstanding coverage from the secondary gave the defensive front time to get to Romo.

This was a humble, cuddly Ray Edwards -- and also as important as anyone to a 34-3 victory that was the Vikings' most impressive effort since ... when, that Monday night victory over the Packers (and a guy named Favre) back in October 1998?

Edwards' notorious colleague, right end Allen, also had a sack that forced a Romo fumble. The knock on this quarterback had been when he feels pressure his footwork leaves him and he gets "flinchy.''

A four-game winning streak had led to tales of a steadier, more mature Romo. But after Edwards drilled him twice early, there was the previous Romo, the quivering mass of doubt.

"We wanted to come hard from the outside and keep him in the pocket," Edwards said. "And if he did break out, we had to stay on him, so he couldn't get a good look downfield."

Allen was asked if it was a benefit to him when Flozell Adams, the Cowboys' veteran tackle, left because of an injury early in the second period.

"We already were getting a strong rush before Flozell was hurt," Allen said. "In some ways, going against a big, talented line like Dallas' can be an advantage. You know you're going to get one-on-one blocking. We were able to win most of those battles today."

Allen said when Romo did escape the pocket the Vikings wanted him "going to our right,'' and thus throwing across his body.

To which a reporter said: "You had Romo scrambling backwards more often than rolling out.''

The super-duper-star of the Vikings defense grinned and said: "I don't know what to add to that.''

Best defensive effort of the season? "We've had some games where we had a great rush,'' Allen said. "What I will say is that top to bottom -- defense, offense, special teams -- that's the best game a team I've been part of has played in this league.''

Allen then gave a serious look and said: "And now we have to do it again next Sunday, and maybe better."

Patrick Reusse can be heard 5:30-9 a.m. weekdays on AM-1500 KSTP. •