Instead, Dallas was obliterated by the breakaway running of Davis. After Aikman countered an early Denver touchdown with a 36-yard scoring strike to Ernie Mills with 6:17 left in the first quarter, Davis gained 122 yards on his next two carries. During his touchdown runs of 63 and 59 yards, which featured nice cutbacks and excellent blocking, he didn't have to break a single tackle. The Broncos' offensive linemen seldom speak for the record, but after Sunday's game one of them gave an anonymous condemnation of Dallas's performance. "A lot of it was the game plan," he said. "We were in the huddle saying, 'Can you believe everything we're trying is working?' But the bottom line is they're just not very good. They're not nearly the team they once were."
There were some mitigating factors, primarily the sprained left knee that limited the effectiveness of the Cowboys' best defensive lineman, tackle Leon Lett. But no one in Dallas's front seven played well before halftime, and the man who normally cleans up the mess, All-Pro strong safety Darren Woodson, had an atypically rank game. The Cowboys figured that putting Woodson in the box, or near the line of scrimmage, would help contain Davis (23 carries, 191 yards, three touchdowns). Woodson might as well have been in the press box. He was squashed by Denver right tackle Harry Swayne on Davis's second touchdown sprint, and he struggled dropping back on pass defense, getting beat on Sharpe's first touchdown catch and incurring a pass-interference penalty on a fourth-down play near the end of the half. The Dallas defensive backs were caught flat-footed by 6'5" wideout Ed McCaffrey, who made five catches for 117 yards and showcased his deceptive speed. "They spread us out," Woodson said, "and we just didn't match up."
Predictably, the man responsible for those matchups, Dallas defensive coordinator Dave Campo, saw things differently. "We were failing to execute things we've been working on since training camp," he said.
Whether it was Campo's adjustments-he changed some zone coverages to counter the Broncos' multiple-receiver sets, for example—or the players' improved concentration, the Cowboys settled down at the start of the second half and forced the Broncos to punt on their first two possessions. But their comeback hopes were in the hands of the 32-year-old Garrett, whose only big NFL moment came when he led Dallas to a Thanksgiving Day victory over the Green Bay Packers four years ago. During the off-season the Cowboys decided to elevate Garrett to the backup position filled the last three years by Wade Wilson, who was not re-signed. Now, beginning with this Monday night's road game against the New York Giants, Garrett, who completed 14 of 19 passes for 113 yards on Sunday, will see a huge increase in job-related stress. His backup is second-year man Mike Quinn, a onetime Gailey pupil in Pittsburgh whom the Cowboys signed last week after the Indianapolis Colts had waived him.
Given the quarterback's increased options in Gai-ley's scheme, it seemed inevitable that Aikman would become Acheman. Normally as averse to running as Colin Powell, Aikman stunned observers by taking off five times for 43 yards and two touchdowns in the Cowboys' season-opening, 38-10 victory over the Arizona Cardinals. On Sunday, with 10:33 remaining in the second quarter, Aikman left the pocket and headed upfield on consecutive plays. On his second run he lunged for a first down and landed on his left shoulder just as Denver defensive end Marvin Washington fell on top of him. Suddenly the Cowboys were facing their longest stretch without Aikman since he started winning Super Bowls.
Gailey knew what he was getting into when he chose to work for Jones, whose relentless optimism produces a tremendous amount of pressure. As he strode across the Mile High Stadium grass before Sunday's game, Jones conceded his team would probably struggle against the Broncos. But he ended on an upbeat note, saying, "Unless we get deflated by an injury or an unforeseen circumstance, we should have a grasp of Chan's offense by midseason, and then we'll be a contender. My fondest hope would be to play well enough today that we can leave here with our arrow pointed up."
Afterward, in a shell-shocked Cowboys locker room, Jones nodded grimly when reminded of his earlier statement. "By taking off and running," he said, "Troy gave us a chance to build some character over the next four weeks."
Now it's up to Gailey to keep the Cowboys afloat. If he can't, he might find himself flashing that shark signal.