Eagles' pick and roll drops Dallas, 31-21 Cowboys' go-ahead bid turns into 104-yard INT

November 04, 1996|By PHILADELPHIA INQUIRER

IRVING, Texas -- The monster in the closet is gone, bloodied and beaten and banished forever. It was a fierce and brutal exorcism, a battle of bodies and wills, the kind the Dallas Cowboys have had a way of winning over the Philadelphia Eagles.

"In the past," said Eagles running back Ricky Watters, "there would be a point where we'd say, 'Oh, no, here they come.' But not today. We looked at each other and said, 'We can beat this team. We can beat this team.' "

The Eagles did. They broke the spell with a stunning, thrilling, 31-21 victory at Texas Stadium yesterday.

The monster was 3 yards from winning, a short field goal from forcing overtime, one play from tormenting Eagles coach Ray Rhodes and his team for another year -- and then it happened.

Linebacker James Willis intercepted Troy Aikman's pass in the end zone, and it was like a cork popping. Troy Vincent took a lateral from Willis and staged a one-man victory parade that ended in the Dallas end zone.

"When I saw William [Fuller] closing in on Aikman, it was like 'Aaaaaaaaah,' " the wide-eyed Watters said. "When I saw Aikman get the pass off, it was like 'Oooooooh.' And then, when I saw James and the ball come out of the end zone, it was 'Ohmigawd, ohmigawd.' "

Things got even better. The Eagles (7-2) moved into first place in the NFC East when Washington lost.

The Cowboys (5-4) saw their four-game winning streak, which began Sept. 30 with a 23-19 victory over the Eagles, broken. The defending NFL champs face a make-or-break stretch, with games against San Francisco and Green Bay, in the next two weeks.

The Eagles won a game against Dallas last year at Veterans Stadium, but this was different. This time, they beat the Cowboys on the road for the first time in five years. When a big play had to be made, it was an Eagle, not a Cowboy, who made it.

"Before," said linebacker William Thomas, "we would be like 'Uh-oh!' Today, when they made a play, it was 'OK, let's make a play of our own.' "

Rhodes told his team before the game that it was time to kick open the closet door and face the monster. The coach didn't yell or cuss or preach.

"There was no fire and brimstone," Fuller said. "He just spoke and said it was time."

Rhodes sent his team into this game like a father sending his child to confront the school bully. And the Eagles responded.

Their offensive line, embarrassed in past games against the Cowboys, played its best game of the season. Watters found space to rush for 116 yards. Ty Detmer, who completed 19 of 33 passes for 217 yards, was never sacked.

Leon Lett, who had a special place in the Eagles' nightmares, delivered a rare hit after Detmer released a pass. The two men went down in a tangle. Detmer pushed himself up, saw that Irving Fryar had caught the pass for a 14-yard TD, and celebrated by smacking Lett's rump four or five times.

An Eagles quarterback whipping Lett's backside? Talk about role reversal.

That touchdown gave the Eagles a 21-13 third-quarter lead. They had bounced off the ropes after what could have been a knockout punch -- Herschel Walker's returning the opening kickoff 86 yards to set up a 1-yard touchdown run by Emmitt Smith.

"We didn't get worried," Watters said. "We just said we had to go out and answer it."

They did just that, capping it on the interception and TD return of the pass Aikman said he was trying to throw away.

"Ecstasy," Fuller said of his feeling as Vincent raced toward the end zone. "It was ecstasy. It couldn't have happened any better than it happened."

Pub Date: 11/04/96

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