1994 was a year of denial for the Dallas Cowboys. Jerry Jones wanted to deny the influence Jimmy Johnson had in building his dynasty, and he also wanted to deny that Barry Switzer’s lack of accountability would be the dynasty’s undoing. The players wanted to deny any drop off they had suffered in Johnson’s dismissal and the departure of key teammates to free agency. They wanted to deny that their Week 11 loss to San Fransisco was foreboding, and they wanted to deny winning three consecutive Super Bowls would be difficult.
It was Week 16. The Cowboys were headed to New Orleans to take on the Saints in a showdown on Monday Night Football. San Fransisco handedly beat the Denver Broncos at Candlestick Park 42-19, so any chance to get homefield advantage throughout the playoffs was finished. Even if San Fransisco lost the next week to the Vikings as the Cowboys beat the Giants, San Fransisco had the tiebreaker. There was no difference between 13-3 and 12-4. Heck, there was no difference between 11-5 and 12-4. The closest team to threaten the Cowboys’ 2nd seed was the Vikings, and the best they could finish was 10-6.
For the New Orleans Saints, their playoff hopes hung in the balance. They needed Green Bay, who had already beaten the Falcons 21-17 at Lambeau Field, to lose to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers the next week to have any shot of getting into the playoffs. Oh, yeah, and don’t forget the Saints’ small task of beating the 11-3 Dallas Cowboys and 6-9 Broncos in Denver the next week. Even if the Saints didn’t go to the playoffs, it was yet another season of avoiding a double digit loss column since 1985, the season before Jim Mora took over the head coaching job in the Big Easy. The Saints had never had a winning season until Mora took them to one in his second season in 1987 with a 12-3 record. By 1994, Mora had amassed five winning seasons and four playoff berths. Don’t forget the NFC West crown in 1991. Mora’s Saints had the unenviable position of being in the same division with the San Fransisco 49ers.
It was more of a momentous game for the Saints. For the Cowboys, they could afford to give it away.
The first quarter started off the way Cowboys fans were accustomed to in the ‘90s: with a score. The difference is it was a defensive score. Tony Tolbert picked off a Jim Everett pass and took it back 54 yards for the Cowboys’ second defensive score of the season. The Saints didn’t respond until the 2nd quarter when Morten Andersen launched two field goals to put the Saints within one point. Before halftime, Chris Boniol connected on a 30-yard field goal to put the Cowboys up 10-6 at halftime.
Coming out of the sheds, Emmitt Smith scored on a 1-yard touchdown run to put Dallas up 17-6. Again, the Saints could only respond with a field goal as Morten Andersen drilled one from 29 yards out to make the score 17-9. In the fourth quarter, second year linebacker Darrin Smith picked off Jim Everett for a second picksix to give the Cowboys a 24-9 lead, one which seemed insurmountable to the Saints this late in the game, this late in the season. New Orleans runningback Derek Brown, who split time with rookie Mario Bates, scored a 4-yard touchdown to cut the Cowboys’ lead to 24-16 after Morten Andersen’s extra point. The Cowboys hung on to win 24-16 and go to 12-3 in the NFC East, their final win of the regular season.
There were exciting highlights in the game. Any time the Cowboys score on defense twice, get another Darrin Smith interception, and Michael Irvin makes a 20-yard catch, it’s always spectacular. But probably the most memorable play in that game was a Troy Aikman interception to Darion Connor that Pro Bowl defensive end Wayne Martin tipped at the line of scrimmage. As Darion Connor galloped for the goal line, 6’3’’, 325-pound Dallas lineman Larry Allen chased down the linebacker. What’s impressive is Larry Allen was standing flat-footed at the time of the interception.
Well, don’t take my word for it. See it for yourself.
The 2nd rounder from Sonoma State had started at right tackle in Week 9 after incumbent Erik Williams crashed his car severely early on the morning of October 24th after a 28-21 victory in Arizona over the Cardinals. Williams was lost for the season, and almost lost on this mortal coil. Since that time, the rookie Allen started eight straight games and was hardly seen, as all linemen should be. But he burst onto the scene with that touchdown-saving tackle.
Though Troy Aikman only had 175 yards and 2 interceptions, he was still remarkably efficient that game, for he went 21/28. A third of his completions went to Emmitt Smith, Daryl Johnston, and Jay Novacek, so most of his passes weren’t necessarily going down field. Emmitt Smith did have an average game with 19 rushes for 74 yards and a touchdown. The Dallas offensive line did a so-so job in not giving up a sack. That was “so-so” because that was one of the best offensive lines in NFL history. That was standard fare for them.
Russell Maryland and Dixon Edwards each got a sack on Jim Everett, who went 18/32 for 168 yards and three interceptions. The first year Saint, who had spent the previous eight seasons with the Rams, had the worst game of the season with a 31.0 passer rating. Runningback Derek Brown had the aforementioned touchdown, but only 6 carries for 19 yards. Rookie Mario Bates had the most carries with 17 for 68 yards. And a little known fullback by the name of Lorenzo Neal one single carry for two yards.
Sunday’s game is one the Cowboys need desperately. They need to win out in order to ensure the Giants’ not making the playoffs and also wrest control of the NFC East title. Unlike the 1994 Cowboys, the 2012 Cowboys aren’t assured a playoff spot. They must win this game, and they can’t take the Saints for granted. While the 2012 Saints don’t have more than “diddly poo” to play for in this season of suspensions, they can make the Cowboys’ season exactly that with a win. In 1994, the team with plenty was stingy in giving the needy team a win. In 2012, the team for whom a win would be worthless now stands to take one from the desperate team. While it’s not a tall task for the Cowboys defense to score points in order to win, it is near impossible to win without Tony Romo being involved in the effort. Sunday could be a shootout, and Dallas needs its best gunfighter with a football shooting straight.