The 1995 Dallas Cowboys are the perfect example of how the final week of the regular season can help determine a team’s fate. Although the ’95 Cowboys won two playoff games before sending the Steelers to Super Bowl XXX, they probably wouldn’t have won that Super Bowl without the results of three different games in the final week of the regular season.
After an 8-1 start, the Cowboys welcomed the 49ers reigning Super Bowl champions to town for a Week 11 showdown at Texas Stadium. Dallas had beaten San Francisco in the 92 and 93 NFC Championship games and was looking to regain the balance of power in the NFC after falling to the 49ers in the 1994 NFC title game, 38-28.
Instead of tipping the scales in their favor, the Cowboys were knocked down by the 49ers, who won the game easily despite playing without quarterback Steve Young. The San Francisco offense, with Elvis Grbac replacing Young, still managed to get around the Cowboys defense by fielding Jerry Rice all over the field. Dallas was hoping to use a male cover on Rice with Deion Sanders watching his every move, but couldn’t execute his plan as Rice lined up on both sides of the San Francisco offense while creating holes in the shot of the Cowboys.
As the Dallas defense scrambled to determine their assignments, Rice – who was lined up in the lunge – took advantage, making a sideways pass and running the remaining distance for an 81-yard touchdown. The rout was on, as the 49ers backed up January’s NFC title win with a convincing 38-20 win in Week 11.
“This one was actually worse than the Championship game. We never even got close,” Cowboys full-back Daryl “Moose” Johnston said during an NFL Films documentary about the Cowboys of ’95. This San Francisco game was the first time in a long time that we’ve said, ‘They’re just better than we are right now.’ ”
“We got outscored in this game,” added former Cowboys cornerback Larry Brown, who was out of position on Rice’s 81-yard score.
Speaking of training, apparently every Cowboys fan in America was pissed off after Dallas head coach Barry Switzer – who had replaced two-time Super Bowl champion Jimmy Johnson in Dallas two years earlier – has called back-to-back running games on the fourth and -1 deep in their own turf that contributed to a horrific Week 15 loss in Philadelphia to the Eagles. Not only have the Cowboys lost three of their last five games, they’ve also fallen behind the 49ers in the race to secure the seed before the playoffs.
“It was a time of the season,” recalled Rich Dalrymple, longtime Cowboys PR representative, “when you started to think,” The Cowboys aren’t what the Cowboys were, and maybe the pendulum of power has completely shifted towards the bay area. ‘”
After beating the Giants by one point in Week 16, the Cowboys appeared to be a breathless team when they boarded a plane on Christmas Eve to take on the Cardinals in Week 17. in “Monday Night Football”. However, that all changed when news of what had happened earlier today between the 49ers and the Falcons broke.
“We knew before we got off the plane – and word went through the rows of the plane like wildfire – the 49ers lost,” recalls Dalrymple. “If we go to Arizona and do business Monday night, Christmas night against the Arizona Cardinals, we can get the home court advantage again.”
The Cowboys took care of the business, scoring the game’s first 24 points in a possible Arizona 34-13 teardown on Christmas Day. The game was also historically significant, with Emmitt Smith scoring an NFL record 25 rushing touchdowns in one season in the fourth quarter.
“This game was so special for us,” said Brown of the victory that saw the Cowboys claim the fourth straight NFC East Division title. “The guys were excited, and I think it gave us back our confidence that we could do it, we could come back to the Super Bowl.”
The Cowboys, unbeknownst to them, received another Christmas present in Week 17. The Packers, who needed a Week 17 win over the Steelers to claim the NFC Central Division title while. in securing a playoff berth, clinched a 24-19 victory after Pittsburgh wide Yancey Thigpen dropped what would have been the winning touchdown reception in the last minute of the game. While the Cowboys – winning the first seed – would face the lowest seed remaining in the second round, the 49ers would face the highest seed remaining in the divisional round, which meant a likely clash with third-seeded league MVP Brett Favre and the Packers.
The Cowboys started their playoff series with a convincing victory over the Eagles in the divisional round. The 49ers, on the other hand, were stunned in the second round by Favre, Hall of Fame passer Reggie White and the rest of the Packers, who beat the 49ers in three straight playoff games. That meant the Cowboys, instead of facing Young, Rice and the 49ers in a fourth straight NFC Championship game, would instead host a Packers team that had lost to the Cowboys in Dallas in the previous two playoffs.
While Favre and the Packers made them work for it, Smith, Michael Irvin, Troy Aikman and the rest of the Cowboys eventually pulled away from Green Bay, beating the Packers 38-27 en route to their third Super Bowl appearance in four. year. span. And while Pittsburgh also put in a valiant effort, the Cowboys ultimately claimed what remains the franchise’s most recent Super Bowl victory.
One question still remains from the Cowboys’ last championship season: Could they have defeated the 49ers in the NFC title game, whether in San Francisco or at home? Thanks to the Falcons, Packers and Cowboys’ Week 17 win in Arizona, it’s a question NFL fans will never know the answer to, and a question the ’95 Cowboys will never have to. to worry.