1990 Review: Cowboys Improve but Miss Playoffs

Jimmy Johnson had more to smile about in 1990 thanks to a four-game winning streak that nearly helped the Cowboys to a playoff berth.

The 1990 Cowboys stood at 1-3 after four games, but the season would not turn out to be the disaster that the team experienced in 1988 and 1989. The Cowboys had their first four-game winning streak in 1985, and as a result, the team was in a position to make the playoffs. However, when Troy Aikman suffered an injury in week 15, the team was left with backup Babe Laufenberg, who didn’t quite come through.

Week 5: Dallas 14, Tampa Bay 10

The Cowboys’ schedule helped them to get back on track as they faced Tampa Bay twice in a three-week period. In the first of these games, Emmitt Smith had the first 100-yard rushing performance of his career, gaining 121 yards on 23 carries with a touchdown.

Week 6: Phoenix 20, Dallas 3

Dallas was awful against the Cardinals in week 6, managing only 100 total yards of offense. Troy Aikman completed only nine passes for 61 yards.

Week 7: Dallas 17, Tampa Bay 13

The Buccaneers jumped out to a 10-0 lead over the Cowboys, but Dallas came back. Cornerback Issiac Holt’s 64-yard interception return for a touchdown tied the game at 10 in the fourth quarter, and Aikman and receiver Michael Irvin won it when Aikman hit Irvin on a 28-yard touchdown pass.

Week 8: Philadelphia 21, Dallas 20

Thanks to two touchdowns in the fourth quarter, the Cowboys led the Eagles 20-14 in the fourth quarter in what could have been the Cowboys’ first win over the Eagles since the strike season of 1987. Instead, Randall Cunningham hit Calvin Williams on a 10-yard touchdown with 44 seconds remaining, giving the Eagles the win.

Week 9: N.Y. Jets 24, Dallas 9

The Cowboys outgained the Jets 321 yards to 187, but the Cowboys could not turn yards into points. The Jets extended a 10-6 lead after three quarters by scoring twice in the fourth, giving the Cowboys their sixth loss of the season.

Week 10: San Francisco 24, Dallas 6

Dallas had no way of slowing down Jerry Rice, as the receiver caught 12 passes for 147 yards.  The Cowboys only managed 158 yards of total offense.

After the loss, several members of the offense, including Aikman and Smith, began to grumble about the offensive playcalling.

Week 11: Dallas 24, L.A. Rams 21

In a back-and-forth game, the Cowboys and Rams were tied at 21 heading into the fourth quarter. Dallas took advantage of a Ram turnover in Dallas territory early in the fourth, and the Cowboys were able to drive for what turned out to be the game-winning field goal.

Both Aikman (303 passing yards) and Smith (171 total yards, including 117 receiving yards) had huge games, ending the complaining.

Week 12: Dallas 27, Washington 17

The Cowboys overcame a 17-10 third-quarter deficit thanks to two rushing touchdowns by Smith, who finished with 132 rushing yards.

Week 13: Dallas 17, New Orleans 13

For the second consecutive week, the Cowboys overcame a second-half deficit in a win over the Saints. Steve Walsh was the starter for New Orleans, and he and Aikman finished with very similar statistics (177 passing yards for both).

Week 14: Dallas 41, Phoenix 10

The Cowboys evened their record at 7-7 and had the final playoff spot in their grasp with a blowout win over the Cardinals. Smith had a huge game with four rushing touchdowns.

Here is a blurb from a Sports Illustrated article that appeared after the game:

Before the Cowboys’ 41-10 win over the Cardinals, Dallas  running back Emmitt Smith said, “Cowboy fans are looking for me to replace Tony Dorsett. They’ve been looking for a lot of things ever since their great players left the game.” Smith  then had the first four-touchdown day by a Cowboy since Duane Thomas and Calvin Hill each did it during the 1971 season. Smith  also gained 103 yards to push his season total to 842. He needs 166 yards and two scores to break Dorsett’s team rookie records for rushing and TDs. After the Phoenix  game, Cowboy pro personnel director John Wooten said, “The similarities have come to reality.”

Week 15: Philadelphia 17, Dallas 3

In the first quarter of the Cowboys’ important game at Philadelphia, Troy Aikman separated his shoulder. Backup Babe Laufenberg managed to throw for only 140 yards with four interceptions, as the Cowboys dropped to 7-8.

Even with the loss, the Cowboys could still make the playoffs with a win over the Falcons on December 30 or a loss by New Orleans against the Rams the following evening. Didn’t happen.

Week 16: Atlanta 26, Dallas 7

Running back Mike Rozier had a career day, rushing for 155 yards against the Cowboys. Defensive lineman Tim Green recorded a safety by tackling Smith in the end zone, and Deion Sanders returned an interception 61 yards for a touchdown. The Cowboys, meanwhile, managed 151 total yards of offense and were never in the game.

Unfortunately, not all copies of this game were destroyed, and someone on YouTube actually posted the game in its entirety (bad quality, though). Here’s one clip from the game, showing a Dallas drive that ended in a missed field goal.

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Given that the team lost a chance to make the playoffs because if its backup quarterback situation, it was easy to second-guess the decision to trade Steve Walsh. After all, it was Walsh and the New Orleans Saints who traveled to Chicago to play the Bears in the first round of the playoffs. However, at least one local critic, Randy Galloway (then of the Dallas Morning News) thought the draft picks the team received from the Walsh trade were more important than keeping Walsh.

As a starter for the Saints, Walsh has been reduced to suspect status, which is where most of the NFL had him rated when he played for Jimmy. And if the Saints nose out the Cowboys this weekend for that final NFC wild card, it will be in spite of Walsh ‘s performance level.

In the long run, Galloway was right, of course. The Walsh trade resulted in the Cowboys obtaining Russell Maryland and Erik Williams, while Walsh only started a total of 22 games for five different teams through 1999.