Dolphins slide past Cowboys

November 26, 1993|By New York Times News Service

IRVING, Texas -- On a 32-degree afternoon of drizzle, sleet, snow and rain, and on a field covered with enough snow that the hash marks could barely be seen, the Miami Dolphins and the Dallas Cowboys played a Thanksgiving Day game where the table could not have been set with more unusual drama.

Dallas thought it had won the game.

Twice in the final five minutes, ahead 14-13, the Cowboys made huge defensive plays that appeared to seal the victory. The first was safety James Washington's crunching hit that forced a fumble by Dolphins rookie Terry Kirby at the Miami 30 with 4:19 left. After that, Dallas missed a field-goal attempt.

The second was Dallas' block of a 41-yard field-goal attempt in the game's final seconds. After the block, by Jimmie Jones, the ball rolled and rolled -- and guess who touched it inside the Dallas 10-yard line?

Leon Lett, he of Super Bowl fame, whose hot dog antics with the ball at the end of a long fumble return cost Dallas a touchdown when Buffalo receiver Don Beebe caught him from behind.

This one cost Dallas the game.

After Lett, sliding in the snow, touched the ball with his feet, Miami recovered, giving Dolphins kicker Pete Stoyanovich another shot, this time from 19 yards out.

He made it and Miami had a 16-14 win as time expired over the stunned Cowboys.

Miami now owns the NFL's best record at 9-2. Dallas slipped to 7-4, putting the New York Giants atop the NFC East at 7-3.

This was a crazy, crazy game with a fitting finish.

It was a game in which Dallas rookie Kevin Williams emerged as both a receiver and a punt-return threat. He scored all of the Cowboys' points except the conversions.

It was a game in which Keith Byars showed his mettle, running and catching all afternoon as if he were playing in sunshine on a scorched field.

It was a game in which both teams were strong on defense, on a field where gaining traction and maintaining it seemed nearly impossible. It was 19 degrees out there, including the wind chill.

Miami's victory could speak volumes about which team is the one to beat in the American Football Conference -- and possibly beyond.

"We've lost two in a row to start the season, and we've lost two in a row now," said Dallas coach Jimmy Johnson. "There is no reason we can't put another streak together.

"The play by Lett, it was a mistake and we all make 'em and it's part of the game. There were hundreds of mistakes made in the ballgame before that. It just so happens that that came at the end and it will be remembered as the one that cost us the ballgame."

Steve DeBerg led the Dolphins on their final drive with poise and confidence and finished the game with 24 completions in 41 pass attempts for 287 yards and two interceptions.

After Byars' 77-yard touchdown run, Williams caught a 4-yard touchdown pass to tie it at 7-7.

Then, with only 42 seconds left before halftime, Williams struck again with a 64-yard punt return for a touchdown that gave Dallas its halftime lead of 14-7.

"I've been around a lot of football games, but I've never seen one end like that before," he said.

LETT-ER OF THE LAW

The officials' call that led to Miami getting the ball on the 1-yard line with three seconds left was based on these factors:

* Any blocked kick that doesn't cross the line of scrimmage can be recovered and advanced by either team, but a blocked kick that does cross the line (as in the Dolphins-Cowboys game) can only be advanced by the defensive team.

* A blocked field-goal attempt that crosses the line of scrimmage is not a "live" ball or fumble unless it is touched by a member of the defensive team. If the ball had rolled dead, the Cowboys would have gained possession.

* The kicking team may never advance its own kick even if legal recovery is made beyond the line of scrimmage. Possession only.

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