The game-winner came with slightly less than 10 minutes to play when Dallas, which started most of its second-half drives inside Atlanta territory, capitalized on John James' shanked punt of 10 yards. Taking over at the Falcon 30, Dallas reached the end zone in five rushes, Scott Laidlaw squirting over from the one on a run that was supposed to be a pass.
Landry had sent in a play-action pass called "Fire 26." In the huddle, however, Drew Pearson relayed the wrong play, calling "Slant 26," which isn't a goal-line play. White checked it off to a "Toss 36." Whatever, it worked.
At the start, it appeared that the 14-point spread might be too conservative. Dallas took the opening kickoff and marched 59 yards as Staubach confused the Falcons with double tight ends, quick-hitting routes and the shotgun. But the Cowboys bogged down at the Atlanta 16 and had to settle for Septien's 34-yard field goal and a 3-0 lead.
Then it was Atlanta's turn. Coach Lee-man Bennett's offensive unit had struggled through 55 scoreless minutes a week earlier, before the Falcons bagged the Eagles 14-13. But Bubba Bean pierced the middle on draws and slanted off the flanks, and Steve Bartkowski hit three of his first four passes as Atlanta drove 78 yards in eight plays for a 7-3 lead. Bean ran 14 yards off left guard to score, encountering little resistance en route.
After Laidlaw's first touchdown, a 13-yard bolt up the middle, put Dallas ahead 10-7, Atlanta tied the score on a 42-yard field goal by Tim Mazzetti, the free-agent bartender. A 48-yard field goal by Septien regained the lead for Dallas, but Bartkowski put Atlanta back in front 17-13 by drilling the ball to Wallace Francis, who was knifing between Cliff Harris and Charlie Waters, for a 17-yard touchdown. Mazzetti added another field goal from 22 yards out two plays before Staubach was hurt, giving the Falcons their 20-13 lead, and it hardly seemed that Atlanta's scoring was over for the game. But it was.
"The Cowboys did nothing different in the second half," Bartkowski said of the Dallas defense. "They just played at the level they're capable of, and they did what they had to do better. But our season was a success. We didn't get as far as I would have liked, but it was a growth year for us and I'm optimistic for next season."
Harvey Martin, the defensive end who led the rush that sacked Bartkowski five times for minus 43 yards, thinks that Dallas also has enjoyed a growth season. "The guys who were here last year are a little more mature about where we are," he said. "Last year we had to hold a lot of team meetings where the captains would get up and talk to the guys, calm everybody down and be sure they weren't forgetting what was happening. This year we haven't had to do that. Everybody's doing it for themselves. It's a mature team. We can see it.
"But this is also a strange football team. It's got so much talent it's scary, yet it all depends on how the guys want to play that day. When they hit the field, if they want to play—fine. But if they don't, we can get beat just like anybody else. We're human beings."