The NFL season 1999 was the movie Casino, and the Dallas Cowboys’ Triplets were the Las Vegas mobsters being systematically offed. On October 10th, they whacked Michael Irvin in Philly. On November 8th on Monday Night Football, the Vikings laid Troy Aikman in the hole with a concussion and Emmitt Smith and his broken hand along with #8. Now, on Sunday, November 14th, the Dallas Cowboys were going to play a game without any of the Triplets, something that hadn’t been done since November 5th, 1989.
Maybe Brett Favre would get his first win in Dallas after all, even if his Green Bay Packers were 4-4, the same record as the Cowboys. Things weren’t running smoothly under first year head coach, and Philadelphia Eagles retread, Ray Rhodes, but there were still eight games left. Now was ripe for the picking to walk away 5-4 and sow the seeds of a playoff run.
Backup quarterback Jason Garrett had defeated the Green Bay Packers in Texas Stadium once before, on Thanksgiving Day 1994, one for the ages. Back then, he had Michael Irvin to throw to and Emmitt Smith to toss to. Today, he would have Ernie Mills and Chris Warren.
Dallas got off to an inauspicious start when star cornerback Kevin Smith interfered with Packers wide receiver Antonio Freeman for 33 free yards. Thankfully, Favre and the offense stalled after three plays and punted away the football.
Filling in for an injured Troy Aikman last week, backup Garrett went 3/11 for 4 yards and an interception after his third quarter insertion. The substitute signal caller went 4/5 for 39 yards and a touchdown to go up 7-0 thanks to tight end David LeFleur’s six yard scoring grab. After all, that was the main objective of the ’90s Cowboys: score on the opening possession and sit on the lead. Why should things change just because its top three weapons were sidelined?
After Green Bay went three and out, Jason Garrett led the Redball Express on a 15-play drive from their own 24 yard line down to Green Bay’s 4. Kicker Richie Cunningham lined up for a 22 yard attempt and shanked it, giving Green Bay possession at their own 20 yard line.
The Packers and Cowboys traded three and outs before Green Bay finally got something cooking. Brett Favre’s 40 passing yards and cornerback Deion Sanders’ 32 enforced pass interference yards put Green Bay at first and goal from the Dallas 7 yard line. After a Dorsey Levens run and a Favre incompletion, they faced third and goal from the Dallas 6. Favre dropped back and threw a pass to tight end Jeff Thomason that Kevin Smith intercepted at the two yard line and returned to the 14.
Dallas couldn’t advance the ball and punted away the possession after three downs. The Packers gained only a first down before punting away the football. On the ensuing possession, Green Bay defensive tackle Gilbert Brown hit backup runningback Chris Warren, jarring the ball loose, rolling around on the green Texas Stadium turf. Comrade Vonnie Holliday scooped up the football and gave the Packers good field position. Even if they went three and out, which they did, they would still be in range for a Ryan Longwell 38 yard field goal. The kicker cut the Cowboys’ lead to four points with 1:18 before halftime.
Dallas kicker Richie Cunningham redeemed himself with a 44 yard field goal to put Dallas up 10-3 before halftime. The good news was Dallas received the second half kickoff, where they continued their march back into Green Bay territory. However, backup runningback Chris Warren again fumbled the football and surrendered a valuable possession, especially since this was inside the red zone.
Favre took a sack. His offensive line held. He completed a five-yard pass on second and 22. He scrambled for eight yards on third and 17. He wasted another chance and his special teams punted the ball back to the Cowboys.
November must have been Garrett time. After third-string runningback Robert Chancey ran for a yard, Jason Garrett completed two consecutive completions of thirty yards or more. The most spectacular play of the afternoon, to this point, was wide receiver Raghib Ismail’s 37 yard touchdown catch — well, more of a catch and run.
Garrett dropped back three steps and zipped the ball on a comeback to Ismail, who slipped and fell down. He managed to get up before Packers cornerback Mike McKenzie could down him. In fact, McKenzie slipped and fell down. Ismail raced to the goal line. Thanks to a block by fellow receiver Ernie Mills, Ismail dove and successfully hit the left orange pylon for a touchdown that put Dallas on top 17-3 with 6:57 left in the third quarter.
Now was the time for Favre to mount a comeback. On a drive where had four completions of eight yards or double, the furthest he could advance his team was the Dallas 26 yard line. The furthest Ryan Longwell could advance the field goal try was the line of scrimmage, for offensive lineman Flozell Adams blocked the kick, rendering the 44 yard attempt no good.
Dallas could not gain a first down, but they did pin the Packers inside their own 5 yard line. After going three and out themselves, the Packers gave the Cowboys good field position. Kicker Richie Cunningham, who failed on an easy 22-yarder, successfully kicked a 48 yard field goal to put the Cowboys up 20-3 with 12:33 left in the game.
Favre finally mounted a touchdown drive. After going nine plays down the field, and being aided with two personal fouls against Dallas, Favre found Freeman for a 28 yard strike, which cut the deficit to ten points after Longwell’s extra point.
The Cowboys weren’t able to put more points on the board, so they gave the ball back to Green Bay with 4:41 left in the game. At their own 46, virtually right at midfield, the Packers could only go backwards until Kevin Smith’s holding penalty put the Packers at their own 44. Then, after a completion near the first down marker, they had a false start. Such was the way the drive went, aside from two 16 yard completions to wide receivers Bill Schroeder and Antonio Freeman. Unable to advance the football, on fourth and four, with 1:21 left, Ray Rhodes knew his team needed to score a field goal and a touchdown to force overtime. Therefore, rather than wasting more time, he sent Ryan Longwell out to boot a 31 yard try through the uprights, which he did.
Green Bay’s kicker then masterfully executed an onside kick. Favre was back in business to tie up the game. Again, big completions by Schroeder and Freeman put the Packers at the Dallas 25 yard line. The gunslinger missed rookie Donald Driver streaking down the left sideline past Deion Sanders. He wouldn’t miss his veteran receiver, Freeman.
Favre underthrew the ball, and he knew it was an interception as soon as he saw it fluttering in the air. Cowboys safety, and ex-Packer, George Teague picked off the pass at the Dallas 5 yard line and zoomed to the end zone with only an offensive lineman chasing him tens of yards back. Teague left Favre four seconds to overcome fourteen points, an impossible feat. The Cowboys advanced to 5-4 and tied for first place as the Redskins and Giants lost.
In 2013, Brett Favre isn’t coming out of that tunnel on the south side of AT&T Stadium Sunday. Matt Flynn will lead the 6-6-1 Packers into a town his franchise hasn’t won in since 1989. The Cowboys have replaced the Triplets uniquely with Tony Romo, Jason Witten, and Dez Bryant, but their defense is way worse than the 1999 team. Both teams are hovering infinitesimally above .500 and badly need this win.
Head coach Jason Garrett was 2-0 all-time against the Packers as a player. Can he keep this perfect record alive as a head coach? His career may depend on it.