1998 Review: Cowboys Win NFC East Once Again

Deion Sanders had one of the great individual performances in team history against the Giants in 1998.

When the Dallas Cowboys were riding high in the late 1960s, 1970s, early 1980s, and most of the 1990s, division championships were mostly forgone conclusions. In a couple of instances, though, the division title was about as unimpressive as it could get. One such instance occurred in 1985, when the Cowboys won their final NFC East title under Tom Landry. The second took place in 1998, when the Cowboys stumbled through parts of the season but managed to do enough to win the division.

The problem in both 1985 and 1998 was that by the time the team reached the playoffs, there wasn’t much left in the tank.

Week 1: Dallas 38, Arizona 10

The Cowboys opened the season in impressive fashion, dominating the Cardinals from start to finish. Emmitt Smith had 124 rushing yards on 29 carries, while Michael Irvin caught nine passes for 119 yards. So much (for the time being) about missing the timing-based offense.

Week 2: Denver 42, Dallas 23

The Cowboys were no match for the defending Super Bowl champions. Terrell Davis scored on runs of 63 and 59 yards in the first quarter, helping the Broncos jump out to a 35-17 halftime lead. The news got worse for Dallas when Troy Aikman broke his collarbone and would miss the next five games.

Week 3: Dallas 31, N.Y. Giants 7

In Jason Garrett’s first start since 1994, Deion Sanders stole the show by catching a pass for 55 yards, returning a punt 59 yards for a touchdown, and returning an interception 71 yards for another score. Garrett looked solid and completed an 80-yard touchdown pass to Billy Davis.

Week 4: Oakland 13, Dallas 12

Between 1997 and 1999, the number 13 was the unluckiest number the Cowboys could imagine. During those three seasons, the Cowboys lost games with scores of 13-12 (Philadelphia, 1997); 13-12 (Oakland, 1998); 13-12 (Chicago, 1998); 13-10 (Philadelphia, 1999); 13-10 (N.Y. Giants, 1999); 13-9 (Arizona, 1999); and 13-6 (New England, 1999). In the loss to the Raiders, Garrett struggled, throwing two interceptions and no touchdown passes.

Week 5: Dallas 31, Washington 10

The Redskins started off horribly in 1998, and the Cowboys continued to make Washington miserable. Both Emmitt Smith and Chris Warren rushed for more than 100 yards in the blowout win.

Week 6: Dallas 27, Carolina 20

Despite two first-half touchdowns from former Dallas QB Steve Beuerlein to future Cowboy Rocket Ismail, the Cowboys finally figured out how to beat the Panthers. Two touchdown passes by Garrett erased an early 14-3 deficit, and a touchdown run by Smith helped to put the game away.

Week 7: Chicago 13, Dallas 12

The second of the 13-12 losses in 1998 (see above) was just as frustrating as the first. Dallas had a 12-7 lead in the second half thanks to a touchdown pass from Garrett to tight end David LaFleur, but Garrett could only manage 136 passing yards. Two Jeff Jaeger field goals were enough to give the Bears the win.

Week 8: Bye

And time to welcome Aikman back.

Week 9: Dallas 34, Philadelphia 0

Ray Rhodes final season was an ugly one, and Dallas dominated the Eagles in week 9. Aikman had two touchdown passes in his return.

Week 10: Dallas 16, N.Y. Giants 6

A touchdown pass from Aikman to Eric Bjornson helped the Cowboys put the Giants away and sweep the season series. Smith finished with 163 rushing yards to give him his highest total since 1995. He would never rush for more than 150 yards in a game after this one.

Week 11: Dallas 35, Arizona 28

Three touchdown runs by Smith gave the Cowboys a commanding 35-14 lead in the third quarter. However, the Cardinals roared back. Jake Plummer, who finished with 465 passing yards, threw two passes into the end zone to try to tie the game. However, cornerback Kevin Smith broke up the last of the two passes, and the Cowboys held on for the win.

Week 12: Dallas 30, Seattle 22

In a see-saw game, the Cowboys held off the Seahawks. Aikman threw two touchdown passes, and by the time Chris Warren scored against his former team in the fourth quarter, the game was all but over.

Week 13: Minnesota 46, Dallas 36

Randy Moss made the Cowboys pay for not picking him in the 1998 draft. The rookie caught three passes for 163 yards and three touchdowns, while Cris Carter added 135 yards on seven receptions. Aikman surpassed 400 yards for the only time of his career by completing 34 of 57 passes. Most of those passes, though, were part of a desperate attempt to keep up with the Vikings.

Week 14: New Orleans 22, Dallas 3

In probably the ugliest loss of the 1998 season, the Cowboys barely showed up at the Superdowe in New Orleans. The worst no-show? Emmitt Smith, who rushed 15 times for 6 yards.

Week 15: Kansas City 20, Dallas 17

The Cowboys’ first trip to Kansas City since 1989 was not a pleasant one for the Cowboys, who again had trouble moving the ball effectively. The team’s leading receiver was little-known Patrick Jeffers, who caught five passes for 74 yards with a score.

Week 16: Dallas 13, Philadelphia 9

The Cowboys thankfully got to play the Eagles with a chance to secure the NFC East title for the sixth time in seven years. There was little celebration, though, as most thought the Cowboys looked nothing like a playoff contender. According to the great Frank Luska:

After the Cowboys almost strained themselves into a hernia to beat Philadelphia on Sunday, the prevailing perception of the result appeared the work of a cartoonist.

The mental picture looked like a poor chap hunched over a can of beans tied to a stick and held over an open fire. The fellow wears a tattered hat, has the butt of an unlit cigar stuck in his mouth and sports a week-length growth of whiskers. He personifies the 13-9 winner at Texas Stadium in a thought that goes:

Behold the NFC East champion Dallas Cowboys – King of the Hobo Jungle.

Week 17: Dallas 23, Washington 7

Emmitt Smith scored two touchdowns on 10 carries to give him 13 for the season. The Cowboys otherwise put the Redskins out of their misery with a 23-7 win in the season finale.

The big question: would Dallas wake up in time for the playoffs?

Um, the very nature of that question was not reassuring for Dallas fans.

And the answer was no.

  • Jason Neighbors

    Well, I like to take the view that it was a pretty impressive achievement for those teams to win the NFC East in ’85 and ’98 in light of the fact that they just weren’t very good teams. They really were overachieving teams and bounced back from regular season beatings from the real contenders. It was obvious those teams didn’t have a snowball’s chance in hell of contending, so better to at least win a division title than to not to, right? It still goes down as a division title in the history books.