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The defeat killed Buffalo's playoff chances, and now the Dolphins take their one-game lead over the Colts to Baltimore. "The Colts kept mouthing off about how they wouldn't lose to any team with a 41-year-old quarterback," said Center Jim Langer. "Well, with Earl hurt, our quarterback now is 25."
In the opinion of almost anyone who knows the difference between a football and a beanbag, last Sunday's St. Louis-Dallas game should have been one of the real dogfights of the NFL season, a showdown for first place in the NFC Eastern Division, probably winding up in another overtime like the one the teams played back on Sept. 28. But everyone, including the bookies who made St. Louis a one-point favorite, should have checked the schedule: the rematch was scheduled for Busch Memorial Stadium on Dec. 7—a perfect day to get bombed.
And that's exactly what happened to the shell-shocked Cowboys in the first half. In a word, the Cards were devastating as they put the game out of reach 28-3. They finally prevailed 31-17 to take a giant step toward their second straight division title.
By handing the Cowboys their worst defeat in two years, St. Louis improved its record to 9-3, with nothing more ominous remaining on the schedule than road games in Chicago and Detroit. Barring a blizzard in the former city and a leaky roof in the latter, the Cards look like a cinch. Especially with Terry Met-calf around to all-purpose the opposition to death.
For the Cowboys, a team with a dozen rookies on its roster, the outlook is more worrisome. Dallas is now tied at 8-4 with Washington, a last-gasp 30-27 winner over the Falcons on Sunday, and it must beat the Redskins for the NFC wild-card berth. If Dallas loses this week it will be absent from the playoffs for the second straight year. This is a team that used to make the Super Bowl's round-robin tournament almost automatically.
Talking about the playoffs the night before the St. Louis game, Dallas Coach Tom Landry said, "Now it's all in front of us. We win two of these next three and we're in. It's as simple as that. If we win, we win and if we lose, we had our chance."
It soon became obvious on Sunday that the Cards were giving Dallas nothing better than a chance at the showers. Sparked by Metcalf's rushing, receiving, kick returning and mere presence and the splendid passing of Quarterback Jim Hart to Mel Gray, St. Louis controlled the ball and rocked the Cowboy defenses with enough big plays for two seasons. The Cards scored four touchdowns on their first five possessions and achieved good field position so routinely that their first punt came with 9:16 left in the fourth quarter, when Jeff West booted one out on the Cowboy two-yard line.
Hart's first touchdown toss signaled the dour day that lay ahead for the Cowboy pass defenders. Three of them—Mel Renfro, Cliff Harris and Randy Hughes—were in a tight little end-zone knot when Metcalf arrived in their midst at the end of a 30-yard sprint. Interception seemed likely, but Metcalf snatched the ball out from under his rivals and the Cards had scored with the game less than three minutes old. Two more scoring passes were thrown from 49 and six yards out to the speedy Gray.
The other St. Louis touchdown came on a one-yard run by Steve Jones, who would not have had the chance but for an unusual Dallas penalty born of rookie overzealousness. When Jim Bakken booted a 22-yard field goal for the Cards, Linebacker Thomas Henderson jumped on a teammate's back for a better shot at blocking it. The officials ruled such a tactic illegal, and the penalty gave St. Louis the choice of a first down at the Dallas two instead. Cardinal Coach Don Coryell took it and Jones had his touchdown three plays later.
It is Dallas' style, despite the superb competitive instincts Roger Staubach exhibits as field general, for Landry to call the plays from the sideline. Staubach would prefer to do the job himself. "Two years ago I called the plays and the game was more fun for me," he said Saturday. "Now it's just mechanical. I have to study defenses, know my keys and know personnel, but I don't know which play is going to be called or when."