IRVING, Texas - The Dallas Cowboys finally played like defending Super Bowl champions.
Dallas discovered its missing offense, George Teague was a one-man gang on defense, and the Cowboys knocked the Minnesota Vikings out of the playoffs 40-15 in an NFC wild-card game Saturday.
The Cowboys, who struggled to a 10-6 regular-season record before winning the NFC East for the fifth consecutive time, will play the Carolina Panthers at Charlotte at 4 p.m. next Sunday in the NFC divisional round.
"This team is still what it is and hasn't fallen out of sight," said coach Barry Switzer. "We made a statement today. We're still the team to beat for the Super Bowl."
The Cowboys took out all their frustrations on the Vikings after a chaotic regular season of suspensions, injuries and underachieving performances.
"We turned it up a level," Switzer said. "We played a total offensive game, and the defense was just great. George Teague had an amazing game. "
The Vikings self-destructed in the biggest scoring half in Dallas playoff history as the Cowboys rolled to a 30-0 lead at intermission. The Cowboys forced five turnovers and cashed them into 23 points.
On offense, Troy Aikman, Michael Irvin and Emmitt Smith executed like they did in winning three Super Bowls in the last four years. Teague made three big defensive plays to stun the Vikings, who qualified for the playoffs with a 9-7 regular season and were seeded sixth.
"This time of year is what we look for," Aikman said. "We're judged by what we do in the postseason. Few wild-card teams make it. It will be tough, not unlike this season has been for us."
"This is a message for whoever has been talking trash about the Cowboys," said Smith.
Smith, dogged by injuries and even benched at one time during the season, scored twice and set or tied five NFL playoff records for rushing and scoring. He rushed for 116 yards on 17 carries.
Aikman ran for a touchdown, passed for one and completed 19-of-29 passes for 178 yards. He is 11-1 in playoff starts and is second only to Green Bay's Bart Starr in playoff ratings.
Irvin, who missed five games under NFL suspension, had his best game of the year by catching eight passes for 103 yards.
"The defense has been winning games and it's time the offense got started and we did today," Irvin said.
Aikman, Smith and Irvin sat out most of the fourth quarter resting for next week's game.
Dallas, ranked 24th offensively in the NFL, struck on its first possession as Aikman completed four passes for 65 yards to Irvin in an 88-yard touchdown drive. The payoff came when Aikman rolled right and scored from 2 yards out.
Then came a bizarre play that took the heart out of the Vikings. Amp Lee took a short pass over the middle and appeared on the way for a 43-yard touchdown. However, Teague caught Lee at the Dallas 1 and poked the ball out of his hands and out of the end zone for a touchback.
"I don't think Lee knew I was there," Teague said. "I just punched the ball out of his arms."
Lee knew Teague was there and tried to tuck the ball away.
"I take full responsibility," Lee said. "That early in the game if we get seven points we make a statement. If we score there it's 7-7. they came out with a lot of emotion but we could take it away.
"From that play everything snowballed against us."
Chris Boniol then kicked the first of his four field goals, a 28-yarder.
Minnesota coach Dennis Green said "whatever they needed to get done offensively or defensively they got done. "
Green said the game turned on Lee's mistake.
"Amp made one of the best plays of the day but got careless," Green said.
Minnesota gave the Dallas the ball again when Teague hit Leroy Hoard, who fumbled to Deion Sanders. On the next play, Smith followed textbook blocking 37 yards for a touchdown.
Teague, a free agent refugee from Green Bay, struck again as Brad Johnson, making his first playoff start, threw across the middle. Teague picked off the pass and went 29 yards for a touchdown to make it 24-0.
Sanders' interception off Johnson, his former Florida State teammate, set Dallas up for a 31-yard Boniol field goal.
"Teague was starting to make me jealous so I had to have one," Sanders said.
Teague set up in ambush for Johnson's pass.
"I kept hoping he would try to throw it back over the middle because I was just waiting," Teague said.
"There were some balls Brad shouldn't have thrown and that was one of them," Green said.
Then came another Minnesota goof. Orlando Thomas intercepted Aikman's pass but fumbled the ball back to Dallas when Herschel Walker tackled him. Dallas turned that gift into a 30-0 on Boniol's 22-yard field goal.
Boniol made it 31 consecutive field goals in the fourth quarter with a 25-yarder.
The Vikings finally got on the board in the third quarter on a 30-yard touchdown pass from Johnson to Cris Carter and a 5-yard touchdown run by Johnson. Johnson was 15-of-27 for 208 yards.
Smith's touchdown, a 1-yard run, was controversial because he fumbled and lost the ball at the goal line. Officials ruled he broke the plane of the goal.
It was the third-highest point total by the Cowboys in a playoff history. They had scored 52 points on two occasions.
For Green, who has been under fire all season, it was his fourth playoff loss in as many attempts.
"It was all downhill for the Cowboys," Green said. "We just couldn't stop 'em."