1999 Review: 3-0 Start Turns Into a Battle to Make the Playoffs

Michael Irvin's career ended at Veterans Stadium in Philadephia on Oct. 10, 1999. Losing Irvin marked the end of an era for the Cowboys.

After the 1999 Cowboys roared back to beat the Redskins to open the 1999 season, the team had some momentum. After the third gameĀ  of the year, Dallas stood at 3-0 and looked like one of the strongest teams in the NFC. Then came a trip to Veterans Stadium in Philadelphia.

The remainder of the season was tough to watch. The story of 1999: Dallas gets early lead. Dallas offense stalls. Opponent comes back. Opponent wins game by scoring 13 points. In fact, four of the Cowboys’ eight losses occurred when their opponents scored exactly 13 points. Moreover, Dallas held the lead in 15 of its 16 games but only managed an 8-8 record.

Week 2: Dallas 24, Atlanta 7

The Cowboys hosted the defending NFC champions on Monday Night Football in week 2. The Cowboys jumped out to a 17-0 lead and cruised to a 24-7 win. Emmitt Smith had two touchdown runs, and Greg Ellis returned an interception 87 yards for a touchdown.

Week 3: Bye

Week 4: Dallas 35, Arizona 7

The Cowboys avenged their playoff loss to the Cardinals from 1998 by routing Arizona in week 4. Michael Irvin caught his final touchdown pass in the first quarter. Ellis scored a touchdown in consecutive weeks by returning a fumble 98 yards for a score.

Week 5: Philadelphia 13, Dallas 10

The Cowboys’ momentum came to a crashing halt against the Eagles. At the end of the first quarter, the team lost Irvin for good when he injured his neck after catching the last of his 750 career receptions. Though Dallas held a 10-0 lead at halftime, the Eagles clawed back into it and won the game when Doug Pederson hit Charles Johnson on a 28-yard TD pass in the fourth quarter.

Week 6: N.Y. Giants 13, Dallas 10

The story of 1999: Dallas gets early lead. Dallas offense stalls. Opponent comes back. Opponent wins game by scoring 13 points. Against the Giants, the Cowboys tied the game at 10-10 in the fourth quarter on an Emmitt Smith touchdown, but the Giants secured the win with a late field goal.

Week 7: Dallas 38, Washington 20

In the rematch from the week 1 shootout, the Cowboys exploded to a 17-0 lead. Though the Redskins managed to cut the lead to 24-20 by the end of the third quarter, the Cowboys put the game away in the fourth quarter. Deion Sanders helped matters with a 70-yard punt return.

Week 8: Indianapolis 34, Dallas 24

The Colts entered the game at 4-2 and had won more games than in all of 1998. The Cowboys looked dominant in racing out to a 17-3 lead. However, it didn’t last. The Colts took a 21-17 lead by the third quarter, and though the Cowboys regained the lead on a Smith touchdown run, Indianpolis put the game away with 13 fourth quarter points.

Week 9: Minnesota 27, Dallas 17

Emmitt Smith looked like he might rush for 300 yards after gaining 140 in the first half. His two touchdown runs helped Dallas to a 17-0 lead, but he was injured on the second of those runs and missed the rest of the game. Troy Aikman suffered a concussion and also left the game. The Vikings erased the early Dallas lead, and two Jeff George touchdown passes, including a 47-yarder to Randy Moss, put the Cowboys away.

Week 10: Dallas 27, Green Bay 13

Jason Garrett only completed 13 of 23 passes, but he connected on two touchdown passes. Chris Warren filled in for Smith and rushed for 85 yards. Brett Favre threw the ball 50 times, but the Cowboys picked him off twice. George Teague returned the second of those picks 95 yards for a touchdown that secured the Dallas win.

Week 11: Arizona 13, Dallas 9

The story of 1999: Dallas gets early lead. Dallas offense stalls. Opponent comes back. Opponent wins game by scoring 13 points. Against the Cardinals, Garrett could only manage 111 passing yards. Though Smith rushed for 127 yards, he could not get the Cowboys into the end zone. Making matters worse was that Richie Cunningham continued to have kicking problems. His miss against the Cardinals was his fourth in three games.

Week 12: Dallas 20, Miami 0

In a bit of a shocker, the Cowboys shut out the 8-2 Dolphins. Dan Marino completed fewer than half of his passes and threw five interceptions. It might have been the worst outing of his career, given that it was the only game in which he threw so many picks. Dexter Coakley returned one of those picks for a touchdown. Rocket Ismail also gave the Cowboys a spark by catching a 65-yard touchdown pass from Troy Aikman.

Week 13: New England 13, Dallas 6

The story of 1999: Dallas gets early lead. Dallas offense stalls. Opponent comes back. Opponent wins game by scoring 13 points.

Of course, the Cowboys broke away from this trend against the Patriots, because for the only time in the 1999 season, Dallas never held the lead. Then again, the Cowboys only managed 203 total yards of offense. Richie Cunningham missed yet another field goal in what turned out to be his final game in Dallas.

Week 14: Dallas 20, Philadelphia 10

Eddie Murray returned to the Cowboys at the age of 43. He made two field goals to help the Cowboys to a 13-3 lead, but he also missed two kicks. The game marked Donovan McNabb’s first start against the Cowboys, but he only managed to complete seven passes for 49 yards.

Week 15: N.Y. Jets 22, Dallas 21

The Jets came to Dallas trying to erase a poor early start and finish the season with an 8-8 record. Dallas wanted to avoid an 8-8 record if at all possible. The Cowboys held a 21-13 lead but yet again could not hang on. John Hall’s field goal in the fourth quarter gave the Jets a 22-21 win.

Week 16: New Orleans 31, Dallas 24

The 1999 Dallas Cowboys were supposed to be a playoff team. The 1999 New Orleans Saints were 2-12 and were starting a former NFL Europe QB in Jake Delhomme (then a complete unknown). The Cowboys overcame an early deficit to take a 24-17, but New Orleans dominated the fourth quarter. The Cowboys fell to 7-8 and were below .500 for the first time all season.

Week 17: Dallas 26, N.Y. Giants 18

The Cowboys weren’t the only mediocre team in the NFC in 1999. When Green Bay and Carolina both lost in the final week of the season, the Cowboys had a chance to make the playoffs with an 8-8 record simply by beating the Giants at home. Dallas raced out to a 23-3 lead thanks to two Troy Aikman touchdown passes, including a 90-yarder to first-year wideout Jason Tucker.

The good news: the Cowboys made the playoffs for the eighth time in ten seasons during the 1990s. The bad news: Dallas would have to travel to Minnesota for the first round of the playoffs.

  • Tim Truemper

    I had forgotten about the two Ellis returns for TD’s. And it was quite astute of Matt to see the take lead, lose lead, opponent gets 13 points pattern. This was as tough a season to watch as ever for a playoff Cowboy team. No doubt losing Irvin was the key. No one else as receivers stepped up enough to fill the gap, even though Ismail tried mightily.