In the weekly What-If posts, we review some event (draft, game, or whatever) and consider what might have happened if history had been different. This week’s post focuses on the last four games against the Denver Broncos, who have not lost to the Cowboys since 1995.
I managed to fall behind this week, so I did draft a What-If post on Wednesday. For one week only, I’ll call this the Weekly What-If.
In real life…
The Cowboys beat the Denver Broncos during the Super Bowl seasons in 1992 and 1995. However, Dallas has lost to Denver in four straight games dating back to 1998.
None of the losses was huge, but it is worth reviewing the losses to see how any of them might have changed the Cowboys’ fortunes, both short term and long term.
Here were the actual results
What if the Cowboys had won any of these games?
The Cowboys won their first game under new head coach Chan Gailey but had to travel to Denver to face the defending Super Bowl champions.
A win would mean that the 1997 season was an aberration for the Cowboys. It would prove the dynasty could still be alive. It would mean that Gailey’s offense would give new life to the Triplets.
The Cowboys lost Troy Aikman to a broken collarbone. A redhead named Jason Garrett took over for the next five games, leading the Cowboys to a 3-2 record. It showed, to a degree, that the Cowboys could win without Aikman. However, the loss to the Broncos proved that the Cowboys were not real contenders at that point.
The 2-7 Cowboys could have derailed the Broncos’ playoff hopes by beating Denver on Thanksgiving Day. The Cowboys overcame a 26-3 deficit in the fourth quarter, and an extra push would have given coach Dave Campo and team a season-defining win.
And perhaps, Jerry Jones would have praised quarterback Ryan Leaf, who was the team’s fourth starting quarterback of the season.
Of course, a win would have ruined the Cowboys’ chances to have a top-five pick in the 2002 draft. Quentin Jammer would have been available.
Um, sure. I remember the loss, but I had to look up who started at QB for Dallas that day. It was indeed Leaf.
Jerry’s actual comment after the game: ”[W]e’re in new territory, for me, because I’ve never had to find a quarterback before. That’s OK. I’m hell-bent on finding some consistency at the quarterback position.”
Um, sure, Jerry.
Anyway, Quincy Carter returned the following week and led the Cowboys to two straight wins. Dallas finished with a 5-11 record.
Incidentally, the Cowboys’ five wins pushed them back to the eighth pick, where they took safety Roy Williams.
By beating Denver on another Thanksgiving Day game, the Cowboys could have won their fourth consecutive game and had an 8-3 record heading into December. Dallas pushed the 8-2 Broncos into overtime, and a good break here or there could have given the Cowboys the win.
Dallas would have almost certainly made the playoffs in 2005 with that win. Bill Parcells’ club would have managed to make the playoffs twice in his first three seasons.
Ron Dayne ran 55 yards early in overtime to set up a game-winning field goal by Jason Elam. Dallas fell to 7-4.
Then Dallas lost to the Giants, falling to 7-5.
Then Dallas lost two of their final four and missed the playoffs. Again.
The loss was one of several frustrating defeats that year and had several fans, including me, start to questions whether Parcells had any magic left.
He didn’t have much.
The Cowboys were still rebounding from a disappointing 9-7 season in 2008, when the team, yet again, missed the playoffs.
A win by the 2-1 Cowboys over the 3-0 Broncos would have been huge for Wade Phillips and his club.
We’re talking about Wade Phillips and his club.
Actually, we’re talking about Jerry Jones and his club. Think about it—the Cowboys had just recorded a big win at home and had a chance to show progress with an even bigger win on the road.
Of course the Cowboys lost. A 10-0 lead disappeared, and the Broncos came away with a 17-10 win.
The 2-2 start was the worst up to that point in Phillips’ short career in Dallas. Every loss led to a call for Phillips’ head.
The team eventually rebounded to win the NFC East and a playoff game. Nevertheless, the loss was another ugly one in a game the Cowboys should have won.