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NFL Playoff Recap (Arizona-Dallas)

Posted: Sat January 2, 1999 at 10:44 p.m. EST


IRVING, Texas (Ticker) -- It is a new year and a new age for the Arizona Cardinals.

With no playoff wins since 1947 and just one victory in their last 17 games against Dallas, the Cardinals pounded the Cowboys, 20-7, in an NFC wild card game.

In the postseason for the first time in 16 years, the Cardinals (10-7) will play the Minnesota Vikings in the divisional playoffs next weekend at the Metrodome.

"I'm tired of all the talk about streaks," said Cardinals quarterback Jake Plummer. "The past is the past and we can't do anything about it. We're living in the present and the past is over."

It was the first home playoff loss for the Cowboys since 1983, when they fell to the Los Angeles Rams, 24-17. Dallas was 7-0 at home in the postseason in the 1990s.

"Arizona played well and made big plays," said Cowboys coach Chan Gailey. "We didn't and never got a rhythm going on offense. The lack of consistency on offense today was our downfall."

The Cowboys (10-7) averted their first playoff shutout since January 1986 when Troy Aikman hit Billy Davis with a six-yard touchdown pass with 3:33 left in the fourth quarter.

Plummer passed for two touchdowns and Chris Jacke kicked a pair of field goals for the Cardinals. But the story was the Arizona defense, which was scorched for 73 points in two regular-season losses against Dallas.

Today, however, the Cardinals sacked Aikman four times and recorded three interceptions. Pro Bowl cornerback Aeneas Williams had two of the picks and held star receiver Michael Irvin to four catches for only 32 yards.

"We did a tremendous job of mixing up the coverages," said Williams. "It was good to see the secondary and the guys up front having so much fun. The offense has been doing its job and scoring points, but it was time for the defense to get its job done, and that's what we did today."

Linebacker Jamir Miller had 12 tackles and a pair of sacks and rookie Andre Wadsworth added two sacks for Arizona. Dallas led the NFL in fewest sacks allowed (19) this season.

"The defense played well," said Cardinals coach Vince Tobin. "We've had difficulty in the past with Dallas, so we decided to change up a bit and use five men up front instead of four. I don't know what the final stats were but Aeneas was outstanding and the defensive line applied pressure on Aikman."

The Cardinals had lost nine straight in Dallas since a 24-20 victory at Texas Stadium in 1989 and had not beaten a team with a winning record all season.

Plummer, who signed a four-year, $29.7 million contract less than two weeks ago, completed 19-of-36 passes for 213 yards and two touchdowns with two interceptions in his first playoff game.

Aikman, who had an 11-2 playoff record with three Super Bowl titles, was 22-of-49 for 191 yards.

"We didn't play well," he said. "The overriding feeling in this locker room is disappointment. This is not an outcome we expected. It's hard at this time to put the season in perspective when things go this way."

Emmitt Smith rushed for a combined 240 yards in the two wins over Arizona, but carried just 16 times and produced 74 yards in this game. He was stuffed for a one-yard loss on 4th-and-1 at the Arizona 7 in the second quarter.

Meanwhile, Arizona's Adrian Murrell rushed for 95 yards on only 12 carries. He totaled 69 yards on 27 carries in the regular-season losses to Dallas.

Even the return of Pro Bowl cornerback Deion Sanders could not spark the Cowboys. He finished with two tackles after missing the final five regular-season games with a severely sprained toe.

"You can't look in a mirror and be happy with the way we played today," said Sanders. "This team is not getting any younger. It's time for some guys to step up or step out. I was not surprised by our performance today. I think a lot of the guys were looking at the next game."

Dallas finished the 1998 season as the first NFC East team to compile an unbeaten, untied record (8-0) against division opponents. But that mark lost significance with this loss.

The Cowboys had a chance to draw first blood, but Richie Cunningham missed a 36-yard field goal attempt with 4:18 left in the first quarter.

On the next play, Plummer connected with Frank Sanders for a 59-yard gain. Sanders made a one-handed catch over the middle and was tackled at the Dallas 14 by cornerback Kevin Mathis. Sanders had three catches for 72 yards.

Three plays later, Plummer warded off a blitz and flipped a 12-yard shovel pass to Murrell for a touchdown with 2:47 left in the first quarter.

"They had a backside blitz on and all that Jake had to do was pitch it to me," said Murrell. "We were supposed to check out of that play, but Jake looked over the defense and left it on. It worked."

The Cowboys drove 56 yards in eight plays midway through the second quarter on the strength of their running game. Smith rushed for 28 yards on five carries and Sherman Williams added 23 on just two carries. But the drive stalled when Smith was stuffed by linebacker Mark Maddox on 4th-and-1 at the Arizona 7.

The Cardinals defense came though with another big play later in the quarter when Williams cut in front of Irvin to intercept a pass and fell out of bounds at the Arizona 40.

A 37-yard field goal by Chris Jacke with 19 seconds left in the half increased the Cardinals' lead to 10-0. Plummer completed four passes for 43 yards to set up the kick.

After the surprising first half, Arizona kept the momentum to start the third quarter. On the second play from scrimmage, Murrell broke off a 74-yard run before he was caught from behind by Sanders at the Dallas 3.

"That was a long run," said Murrell. "I got tired and was caught from behind. I guess I'm out of shape, but it gave Larry a chance to get a touchdown."

Plummer hit running back Larry Centers with a three-yard scoring pass on the next play, increasing the lead to 17-0 just 76 seconds into the second half.

After failing to score on three possessions in the third quarter, Aikman had his first pass of final period intercepted by Williams at the Dallas 37. Mario Bates ran twice for nine yards before Jacke's 46-yard field goal increased Arizona's lead to 20-0 with 12:55 left.

Dallas finally scored after Sanders returned a punt 41 yards to the Arizona 25. Three plays later, Aikman hit Patrick Jeffers with a 16-yard pass to the Arizona 6. Jeffers finished with seven catches for 92 yards. After an incompletion, Aikman connected with Davis for Dallas' lone touchdown.

© 2000 Sportsticker Enterprises, LP

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