1991 Review: Cowboys Cap Off Hot Streak with a Playoff Win
It had been a very long time since the playoffs really meant anything to the Dallas Cowboys. The team that lost three consecutive NFC title games in the early 1980s had been back twice since 1982, only to bow out to the L.A. Rams in two forgettable games. Since 1985, the team hadn’t even qualified.
After winning five straight to end the 1991 campaign, though, the team rolled into the playoffs on the hottest season-ending winning streak that Dallas had seen since 1978. The Cowboys didn’t blow teams out, but the team played solid defense and made few mistakes.
Week 14: Dallas 20, Pittsburgh 10
The play that most remember from this game is Steve Beuerlein’s 66-yard touchdown pass to Michael Irvin, where Irvin caught a crossing route in front of two defenders and then outraced Rod Woodson to the endzone, breaking Woodson’s tackle just before running it in. The Dallas defense helped the cause by holding the Steelers to just 199 yards in total offense. Russell Maryland had a huge game with two sacks.
Week 15: Dallas 23, New Orleans 14
The team that snagged the final playoff spot in 1990 instead of the Cowboys visited Texas Stadium in 1991. Former Cowboy Steve Walsh led the Saints and even helped New Orleans to a second-half lead with a pair of touchdown passes. However, a Ken Willis field goal and a touchdown by Tommie Agee gave Dallas a 23-14 win.
Week 16: Dallas 25, Philadelphia 13
For the second straight year, the Cowboys needed a win at Philadelphia to secure a playoff berth. With Randall Cunningham hurt, the Eagles went with former Ram and Seahawk Jeff Kemp (also son of Senator and former Buffalo Bill Jack Kemp), who gave the Eagles a 10-8 lead heading into the fourth quarter. From that point, the Cowboys took over, scoring 17 fourth-quarter points to pull out the win. Beuerlein only completed 9 of 31 passes for 145 yards, but his touchdown to Irvin sealed it.
Week 17: Dallas 31, Atlanta 27
For the third straight week, the Cowboys faced a team that had ruined their 1990 season. The Falcons had beaten the Cowboys in the final week of 1990 and were on a hot streak coming to Texas Stadium to end the 1991 regular season. In a back-and-forth game, marred by the Cowboys’ four turnovers, the Falcons had a 27-24 lead after three quarters. Just before the end of the third quarter, though, linebacker Ken Norton had partially blocked a punt, and Emmitt Smith’s touchdown gave Dallas the lead for good. The defense held off a last-minute rally, and Dallas finished with an 11-5 record.
Smith managed to do something that Don Perkins, Calvin Hill, Duane Thomas, Tony Dorsett, and Herschel Walker hadn’t: he won the NFL rushing title, edging out Barry Sanders 1,563 yards to 1,548.
Wildcard Round: Dallas 17, Chicago 13
Chicago held the ball 37:29 seconds. Jim Harbaugh threw the ball 44 times, compared with 18 for Steve Beuerlein. And the Bears managed several drives inside the Dallas 10.
Importantly, the Dallas defense held the Bears to just a single field goal on three of those drives inside the 10, including two drives in the first half. The Dallas offense wasn’t great, but the team did enough to take a 10-3 lead at the half.
The Bears cut the lead to 10-6 in the third, but Dallas answered when Beuerlein hit Jay Novacek on a three-yard TD pass to give the Cowboys a 17-6 lead.
Chicago finally scored inside the 10 in the fourth quarter and had a chance to win it late. However, Bill Bates came away with the game-winning pick with less than two minutes remaining.
For the first time since 1982, the Cowboys had won a playoff game. Up to that point, it had been the longest drought in franchise history.
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Divisional Playoffs: Detroit 38, Dallas 6
Beuerlein hadn’t been great against the Bears, and Troy Aikman wasn’t happy about riding the bench. That was a big part of the storyline heading into the team’s playoff game at Detroit on January 5.
I, on the other hand, was fuming over having to drive my sister from St. Louis to Chicago at the start of the second semester of her freshman year in college. That’s entirely another matter, of course, but I missed the entire first half of the game thanks to this.
Unfortunately, the Cowboys also missed the first half of the game, and by the time Barry Sanders was running right through the Dallas defense on a vintage 47-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter, the game was already over. Dallas turned the ball over four times and gave up three Erik Kramer touchdowns in the loss. Aikman’s return in the second half did nothing to spark the Cowboys.
Immediately, the Dallas press predicted the Jimmy Johnson would go into “rebuilding” mode to cure the problems that popped up in the loss to Detroit. That, he did.