It's a little premature to celebrate just yet, but if the Dallas Cowboys gain an NFC wild-card playoff berth this season, their first thank-you note should go to Al Davis.
Thanks for sending us Steve.
For the price of a fourth-round draft pick -- which is barely more than the cost of postage these days -- Dallas coach Jimmy Johnson acquired quarterback Steve Beuerlein from the Los Angeles Raiders last August. Beuerlein had been buried so deep in Davis' doghouse he didn't dress for a single game last season after a contract dispute.
Beuerlein resurfaced Sunday when the Cowboys' Troy Aikman sprained his right knee early in the second half against the Washington Redskins. The Raider reject completed seven of 12 passes for 109 yards, one touchdown and 10 crucial points as the Cowboys upset the Redskins, 24-21.
"What allows me to sleep what little I sleep this year is having Steve Beuerlein as a backup," Johnson said.
Last year Johnson had Babe Laufenberg as his backup and Babe was more myth than legend. When Aikman suffered a shoulder separation against Philadelphia in Week 16, Laufenberg produced one touchdown and six interceptions in two losses. One win in those two games would have sent Dallas to the playoffs.
With Aikman out at least three weeks, Beuerlein will make his first start since 1989 tomorrow against Pittsburgh. But he refuses to knock the team or the man who dumped on him a year ago.
"The middle of last year I was kind of depressed about things, wondering if they'd let me out of the dungeon," Beuerlein said. "They did let me out and I'm here and happy.
"I couldn't care less if Al Davis was watching [Sunday's game]. In Al Davis' terms, it was fun to be driving the car again. That's an inside joke."
* MORE THAN A PHIL-IN: Beuerlein wasn't the only example of the importance of having a quality backup quarterback. Phil Simms of the New York Giants was Exhibit B.
Simms, who lost his starting job to Jeff Hostetler in Week 15 last year because of injury, reclaimed it Sunday the same way. When Hostetler broke three small bones in his lower back on a sack by Tampa Bay's Broderick Thomas, Simms shook off the rust and led the Giants to a 21-14 victory that kept their playoff hopes alive.
Hostetler is out at least two weeks and maybe for the season, which means the Washington Redskins may face Simms, their old nemesis, in a Dec. 15 rematch.
So far this year, injuries have forced NFL teams to change starting quarterbacks 18 times. Curiously, only three NFC teams -- Chicago, Los Angeles and Washington -- have started the same quarterback every week, while 10 AFC teams have used the same starter.
Of those injured quarterbacks, eight were hurt in the pocket, five were hurt while scrambling and five were hurt without being hit.
* DAVE SCISSORHANDS: Seattle quarterback Dave Krieg wasn't hurt Sunday, but he did suffer an indignity. His two fumbles against Denver gave him 106 for his 12-year career. That ties him with San Diego's Dan Fouts for the NFL's all- time quarterback fumble record. Said Krieg, "I only lost two fumbles? I thought it was at least three or four."
* THE STATE OF MONTANA: San Francisco quarterback Joe Montana, out all year with an elbow injury, says he won't be surprised if the 49ers don't protect him in Plan B free agency this year. "I think it would be hard for them not to do it to me," he said. "They say they wouldn't, but in my mind I have to prepare for it. If they change their mind, that's fine. Who's going to pick me up? I'm 35 with a hurt throwing arm and a high salary. I don't think anybody would take a chance."
For a guy who's won four Super Bowls? Oh, yes they would.
* DEJA VU-DO: For the second straight season, all six division leaders lost in the third weekend of November. On Nov. 25-26 last season, the Bears, Giants, 49ers, Bengals, Bills and Raiders all were upset. All, however, went on to win their division. This past weekend, the front-running Bears, Redskins, Saints, Bills, Oilers and Broncos all lost.
* TWO-MINUTE DRILL: Rookie coach Dick MacPherson may have done more than quadruple the Patriots' win total of a year ago. He may have saved the franchise. Braving bad weather, 47,053 New Englanders turned out to see the Pats beat Buffalo 16-13 Sunday . . . The Giants' Lawrence Taylor is expected to miss Sunday's game in Cincinnati with a knee sprain. If so, it would be only the second game he's missed because of injury in his 11-year career. The first was Nov. 29, 1987, against the Redskins . . . In light of the NFL's ongoing officiating dilemma, Chiefs president Carl Peterson will recommend to the competition committee that league officials work the year round and handle WLAF games this spring . . . Rookie Giants coach Ray Handley can't win now. If Simms takes the Giants to the playoffs, Handley will be ripped for benching him in favor of Hostetler. And if Simms doesn't win, the defending Super Bowl champs won't make the playoffs.