Eagles send Cowboys down kicking, 13-12 Dallas held to four FGs, kept from 4th-quarter TD on first-and-goal from 4

October 27, 1997|By Ken Murray | Ken Murray,SUN STAFF

PHILADELPHIA -- Their dynasty in decay, the Dallas Cowboys surrendered still more ground in a hasty retreat from the NFL penthouse yesterday.

On a cold, rain-swept afternoon in Veterans Stadium, in a game they had to have, the Cowboys lost their quarterback early and a 13-12 decision late to the struggling Philadelphia Eagles.

Long after Dallas quarterback Troy Aikman left the game on the second series with a mild concussion and neck sprain, the Eagles won on an 8-yard touchdown from Rodney Peete to rookie tight end Chad Lewis with 37 seconds left.

It was a defeat that carried haunting reminders of the Cowboys' red-zone failures this season and ominous overtones for their playoff future. It left the Cowboys and Eagles in a three-way tie for second in the NFC East with Washington at 4-4, 1 1/2 games behind the front-running, 6-3 New York Giants. The Cowboys have dominated this division, winning the past five titles.

Yesterday, that domination looked as dead as the red zone for Dallas. On four trips inside the Philadelphia 20 -- and three trips inside the 10 -- the Cowboys managed just four field goals.

"We moved the ball backward," coach Barry Switzer said, spitting out his words. "We moved it better the other way."

No series underscored that more than Dallas' final red-zone disaster. Chris Boniol had just kicked a 37-yard field goal to get the Eagles within 9-6 early in the fourth quarter. Herschel Walker gave Dallas excellent field position, though, with a 49-yard kickoff return to the Philadelphia 34.

From there, backup quarterback Wade Wilson threw 12 yards to Anthony Miller, and Emmitt Smith ran 14 more for a first down to the Eagles' 8. A pass interference call gave the Cowboys first down at the 4 moments later.

That's where it all turned to dust.

In the next five plays, the Cowboys were guilty of a holding penalty (center Clay Shiver), offensive pass interference (Michael Irvin), a sack and a 2-yard loss (Smith).

On fourth down from the Philadelphia 26, Dallas settled for a 43-yard field goal by Richie Cunningham and a flimsy 12-6 lead.

"How we did that, I don't know," said Wilson, summoned to play after Aikman took a first-quarter hit to the head from defensive tackle Jimmie Jones.

"From first-and-goal to a 43-yard field goal that's not good."

At times, this looked like the Cowboys of old. Smith, who scored Dallas' first rushing touchdown of the season a week ago, ran for 126 yards on the slippery carpet. But few of those came in the red zone, a bitter pill for Smith to swallow.

"From the 20 to the 20, we were doing our job," he said. "Inside the 20, we had flags, penalties and poor execution, also. How can the Eagles takes credit for that? We actually beat ourselves. We didn't execute when it counts. If we executed when it counts, we'd reap the benefits."

Then, in afterthought, Smith conceded the obvious.

"They did a great job of putting pressure on the quarterback."

A menacing Eagles' blitz churned up six sacks, two against Aikman, four against Wilson. Defensive tackle Rhett Hall led the charge with 3 1/2 sacks.

Still, it was Philadelphia's offense that won the game. Held to 23 rushing yards in the first half, the Eagles generated 131 on 21 carries in the second. Ricky Watters had 76 of those second-half yards.

It may have been an officiating mistake, however, that kept the Eagles' game-winning, 74-yard touchdown drive alive in the fourth quarter. On fourth-and-11 from the Dallas 43, Peete threw a pass for Irving Fryar, who ran a curl route inside the 35.

Fryar was immediately tackled by cornerback Kevin Smith, seemingly short of the first-down marker. Yet, when officials measured, the Eagles had made the first down by less than an inch.

"Fourth-and-11, they give an 11-yard spot on a 9-yard pattern," Smith said. "He was short of the first down by 2 yards."

The Eagles advanced to the 8 on a short pass and two runs by Watters. On second down, Lewis was wide open for the touchdown catch as safety Omar Stoutmire slipped at the goal line.

"This was a huge win for our football team," Eagles coach Ray Rhodes said. "This is a game where our players can see the light at the end of the tunnel."

In the other locker room, that tunnel was darkening.

Pub Date: 10/27/97

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