SI Vault
Michael Silver
November 20, 1995
The heavily favored Cowboys didn't lay a hand on the 49ers, who recoverd from a rare slump to win 38-20
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November 20, 1995


The heavily favored Cowboys didn't lay a hand on the 49ers, who recoverd from a rare slump to win 38-20

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Dallas knows now how San Francisco felt then, because from Sunday's second play from scrimmage, Big D was done in. On second-and-seven from their own 19-yard line, the 49ers lined up in a formation that featured four wide receivers—including halfback Derek Loville—a tight end and only Grbac in the backfield. Figuring that the Cowboys would have Sanders covering the outside receiver, Trestman put Rice in the slot and sent him on a quick crossing route over the middle, a pattern Rice expertly sold with a stutter step to the outside. Rice moved out of Cowboy cornerback Larry Brown's zone and faced man-to-man coverage from linebacker Darrin Smith, who received no help from slow-to-react safety Brock Marion. Rice caught the ball at the 35, burst untouched up the middle and was gone for an 81-yard touchdown.

The Cowboys hadn't seen anything yet. On Dallas's second play Aikman threw a quick slant to Irvin, who caught the ball in the left flat and then instantly had it jarred loose by Pope. The ball bounced off the turf into the hands of free safety Merton Hanks, who in his last three games against the Cowboys, all of them 49er victories, has been—sorry, Deion—the best defensive back on the field. Hanks was as gone as Rice had been, on his way to a 38-yard score. After that, it took the 49er defense three plays to get another turnover, when defensive end Rickey Jackson, who had dropped back into coverage, snagged an Aikman throw intended for Irvin. San Francisco quickly turned that into a 26-yard field goal by Jeff Wilkins.

On Dallas's next series, Aikman went out after a sack by Niner defensive tackle Dana Stubblefield, and before the second quarter was a minute old, the score was 24-0, on a one-yard run by Loville. Any hopes of a comeback rested on the shoulders of backup quarterback Wade Wilson.

Emmitt Smith, who gained 100 yards on the day but was held to 19 in the first half, scored for Dallas from a yard out with 6:30 left before the intermission, but the 49ers slammed the door shortly before halftime thanks to some more Trestman trickery. On first-and-10 from the Cowboy 45, Rice slipped free from the slot and drew man-to-man coverage from veteran backup safety Bill Bates—the biggest mismatch since Julia Roberts and Lyle Lovett, and, for Dallas, about as successful. Rice took Grbac's pass for 26 yards to the 19, and on the next play the 49ers benefited from an even more absurd matchup. A Cowboy blitz left 263-pound defensive end Tony Tolbert in single coverage against 205-pound halfback Loville, who caught a quick pass over the middle from Grbac and high-stepped into the end zone, stomping the life out of Dallas in the process. Dallas's day had become a gangsta rap video: Six million ways to die, choose one.

"We got our matchups, and Marc exploited them," Grbac said. "A lot of people are asking why they couldn't just put Deion on Jerry all the time, but that's not the way their defensive scheme works."

After the game, the Cowboys respectfully credited San Francisco for its performance. The only person on the Dallas sideline who lost his composure was owner Jerry Jones, who had responded to a heckler behind the Cowboy bench by approaching the stands, pointing at the offender and saying, "Kiss my——," punctuating the command with another expletive. As bitter a day as this was for Jones, it was a banner afternoon for his verbal sparring partner, 49er president Carmen Policy, who jokingly thanked Dallas for not running up the score.

Policy had been far less bold Saturday afternoon when he had admitted that he feared the 49ers would be blown out. He even advised his boss, San Francisco owner Eddie DeBartolo, to stay home in Youngstown, Ohio, rather than fly to Texas for the game. DeBartolo took Policy's advice, but he of all people should have known better. It is DeBartolo who has watched coaches and players come and go, while the 49ers' excellence has continued unabated.

Said Barton late on Sunday, "I hope we keep it going until the year 2000." But of more immediate concern to the Niners are Young's shoulder and whether they can maintain Sunday's intensity in the weeks ahead. "This has to be our turning point," Young said. "We can't play down to the level of our competition. We have to come out with the intensity we had out there today every week. And if we do that, we're still the best team in football."

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