50 Seasons Series
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Review each year in the history of the Dallas Cowboys, starting with the planning stages in 1959 and through the present day.
Emmitt Smith’s pursuit of Walter Payton’s NFL rushing record was the principal reason to watch the 2002 Dallas Cowboys. Once he broke the mark in week 8, though, the team all but quit, dropping 8 of its final 10 games.
Week 1: Houston 19, Dallas 10
This might have been the worst loss in franchise history. In the Houston Texans’ first game ever, the Cowboys saw the game slip away in the fourth quarter. Fifty wins over the Texans couldn’t make up for this loss.
Week 2: Dallas 21, Tennessee 13
Quincy Carter looked fairly solid, connecting on 14 of 24 passes for 240 yards and 2 TDs. Dexter Coakley helped the Cowboys by returning an interception 52 yards for a score to give Dallas a lead the team wouldn’t give up.
Week 3: Philadelphia 44, Dallas 13
At one point, the Cowboys led 10-3 thanks to a 100-yard kickoff return by Reggie Swinton. Then Donovan McNabb decided to explode by throwing four touchdown passes.
Week 4: Dallas 13, St. Louis 10
The Cowboys weren’t supposed to beat the defending NFC champions, who began the 2002 season at 0-3. But Carter’s 17-yard TD pass to Darnay Scott along with two Billy Cundiff field goals gave Dallas the win.
Week 5: N.Y. Giants 21, Dallas 17
The Cowboys lost a fourth-quarter lead in a loss to the Giants. Carter missed a throw to a wide-open Antonio Bryant in the fourth quarter, which could have given Dallas the win.
Week 6: Dallas 14, Carolina 13
Joey Galloway had his second straight 100-yard receiving performance. Carter’s touchdown passes to Galloway and Bryant in the fourth quarter gave Dallas the win.
Week 7: Arizona 9, Dallas 6
Carter lost his starting job by throwing four picks against the Cardinals. Bill Gramatica’s 40-yard field goal in overtime gave Arizona the win and sank the Cowboys to a 3-4 record.
Week 8: Seattle 17, Dallas 14
In a great day in franchise history, Smith broke the all-time rushing record of 16,726 yards set by Walter Payton. Here is a clip from an otherwise forgettable Dallas loss.
Week 9: Detroit 9, Dallas 7
Having lost two in a row, Dallas needed a strong performance in Detroit to climb back towards .500. Instead, Dallas lost two fumbles and lost when Jason Hanson hit a 43-yard field goal in the fourth quarter. It was Chad Hutchinson’s second start, but he didn’t look like any sort of an answer.
Week 10: Bye
Week 11: Indianapolis 20, Dallas 3
The Cowboys only managed 178 total yards against the Colts. Smith only gained 22 yards on 8 carries, while Hutchinson only managed 131 passing yards.
Week 12: Dallas 21, Jacksonville 19
Hutchinson had his only 300-yard game of his career in a 21-19 win over Jacksonville. Joey Galloway caught 7 passes for 144 yards with 2 touchdowns.
Week 13: Dallas 27, Washington 20
As usual, thank goodness for the Redskins. On Thanksgiving Day, Dallas went back-and-forth against Washington, but a touchdown pass from Hutchinson to Galloway along with a Cundiff field goal gave Dallas its final win of the 2002 season. This game also marked the final time that Smith gained more than 100 yards rushing as a Cowboy.
Week 14: San Francisco 31, Dallas 27
Dallas managed to take a 27-17 lead in the fourth quarter thanks to Woody Dantzler’s 84-yard kickoff return along with a touchdown run by Smith. However, the 49ers managed two late touchdowns in what probably put the final nail in Dave Campo’s coaching coffin.
Week 15: N.Y. Giants 37, Dallas 7
Nothing went right against the Giants in week 15. Dallas trailed 21-0 after the first quarter, and the Cowboys were never really in the game.
Week 16: Philadelphia 27, Dallas 3
Dallas picked up 146 total yards in another lopsided loss to the Eagles.
Week 17: Washington 20, Dallas 14
Smith needed 38 yards to gain 1,000 yards once again. Instead, he ran the ball 18 times for only 13 yards and finished the season with 975. Rookie Roy Williams returned an interception 85 yards for a score, but Washington took the game over in the second half.
The only time the Cowboys have ever started a season at 1-3 and still made the playoffs was in 1996. The team that year turned everything around by winning 9 of its final 12 to pull out the NFC East title.
Here are five questions about that season, focusing mostly on the 1-3 start.
The Cowboys endured two 5-11 seasons in 2000 and 2001, and the team had not selected a first-round pick since taking Ebenezer Ekuban in 1999. The team was desperate to add some talent, but the 2002 draft was a good start.
Even before the draft, the Cowboys improved when they signed Pro Bowl defensive tackle La’Roi Glover from New Orleans. Glover had recorded 17 sacks in 2000. He was a significant upgrade over Michael Myers, to say the least.
The Cowboys also focused on defense with the #8 pick in the draft, taking Oklahoma’s Roy Williams. Dallas had visions of Williams leaping over the line to make a sack, sort of like this video:
The Cowboys also found an offensive lineman in Colorado’s Andre Gurode, who evolved into a Pro Bowl player.
The rest of the draft:
1(8) Roy Williams, S, Oklahoma
2(37) Andre Gurode, G/C, Colorado
2(63) Antonio Bryant, WR, Pittsburgh
3(75) Derek Ross, DB, Ohio State
4(129) Jamar Martin, FB, Ohio State
5(168) Pete Hunter, DB, Virginia Union
6(179) Tyson Walter, C, Ohio State
6(208) DeVeren Johnson, WR, Sacred Heart
6(211) Bob Slowikowski, TE, Virginia Tech
Had Bryant and Ross lasted with the Cowboys, this may have ranked up with the greatest drafts in team history. Both became starters as rookies, but both were also released midway through a season. In Ross’ case, he was gone during his second year in 2002. Bryant was gone after five games in 2004.
Martin became a contributor on special teams, but he was gone after the 2003 season. Hunter and Walter also saw quite a bit of action as backups.
We haven’t quite reached the 2004 season in the 50 Seasons Series, but news out of Seattle today relates to the Cowboys’ 2004 draft. Dallas’ first pick that year was Notre Dame running back Julius Jones. He later signed with Seattle but was released today when the Seahawks acquired Marshawn Lynch.
The Cowboys in 2004 had the 22nd pick in the draft. Dallas orchestrated a trade with Buffalo to acquire the Bills’ second-round and fifth-round picks in 2004, along with a first-round pick in 2005. With those picks, Dallas acquired Jones (#43 overall) and tight end Sean Ryan (#144 overall). In 2005, Dallas used the Bills’ #20 pick to take defensive end Marcus Spears.
Jones played four seasons in Dallas and rushed for 3,484 yards. Losman started 33 games in six seasons but is currently out of the NFL.
The Cowboys could have taken Stephen Jackson in the first round of the 2004 draft. However, many were pushing Dallas to take Kevin Jones out of Virginia Tech or even Chris Perry out of Michigan. Neither Jones nor Perry has played since 2008.
Bleacher Report has speculated that the Eagles or Redskins might sign Jones to provide depth. Quite obviously, he won’t return to Dallas.
Most remember the 2001 season as a lost cause—and mostly because it was a lost cause. Dallas opened the season at 0-4, and after winning two, the team went on another four-game losing streak. Rookie QB Quincy Carter returned from an injury in December, though, and he led the team to three wins in the final six games of the year. Thus, there was some hope for improvement even with the disappointment of another 5-11 season.
Week 1: Tampa Bay 10, Dallas 6
Playing against a superior team in the Buccaneers, the Cowboys actually had a 6-3 lead heading into the fourth quarter of the season opener. However, Brad Johnson’s one-yard run in the fourth quarter was all that Tampa Bay needed. Carter only completed 9 of 19 passes for 34 yards in the loss. His interception with 1:17 left effectively ended the game.
Week 2: San Diego 32, Dallas 21
Anthony Wright filled in for an injured Carter, and Wright tried to keep the team in the game with three touchdown passes. However, he also threw three picks, while San Diego QB Doug Flutie threw for 348 yards in the Dallas loss.
Week 3: Philadelphia 40, Dallas 18
Wright and Clint Stoerner both struggled as the Eagles dominated the Cowboys. Troy Hambrick had his first 100-yard game as a pro, though gaining 107 on 10 carries.
Week 4: Oakland 28, Dallas 21
The Raiders jumped out to a 21-7 halftime lead and held off the Cowboys in the second half. Carter started the game, but he was injured after completing just one of five passes.
Week 5: Dallas 9, Washington 7
The Cowboys and Redskins were both winless heading into their Monday Night Football matchup in week 5. Emmitt Smith had his first 100-yard rushing effort in a tight 9-7 win. Tim Seder kicked a 26-yard field goal as time expired to give Dallas the win.
Week 6: Bye
Week 7: Dallas 17, Arizona 3
The Cowboys were forced to start Stoerner, who as an undrafted free agent was not what the team had in mind as a savior. But in his first NFL start, he managed to lead the team to a win over Arizona, though he only compelted 9 of 19 passes for 93 yards. At 2-4, Dallas was only a game behind in a poor NFC East.
Week 8: N.Y. Giants 27, Dallas 24
Stoerner looked like he might be a keeper for one half of the week 8 matchup in the Meadowlands. Dallas jumped out to a 24-7 lead, thanks in part to Stoerner’s touchdown pass to Joey Galloway along with touchdowns by linebacker Dexter Coakley and cornerback Mario Edwards on interception returns. The Giants completely turned the game around in the second half, picking off Stoerner four times. Morton Anderson’s field goal in overtime gave the Giants the win.
Week 9: Atlanta 20, Dallas 13
Rookie Michael Vick was hardly impressive against the Cowboys, completing only 4 of 12 passes for 32 yards. However, he and Doug Johnson threw touchdown passes, while new Dallas starter Ryan Leaf struggled in a 20-13 loss for the Cowboys.
Week 10: Philadelphia 36, Dallas 3
The Cowboys showed they weren’t any closer to beating the Eagles in a 36-3 blowout. The worst play occurred when Jeremiah Trotter picked off Leaf late in the second quarter and returned the pick 50 yards for a touchdown.
Week 11: Denver 26, Dallas 24
Denver dominated most of the game and had a 26-3 lead at one point. Dallas clawed its way back in the game, but when Reggie Swinton returned a punt 65 yards for a touchdown, coach Dave Campo elected to kick the field goal instead of going for a two-point conversion. Dallas still trailed by nine, and a late Troy Hambrick touchdown was not enough to avoid the loss.
Week 12: Dallas 20, Washington 14
Quincy Carter returned to the lineup and led the Cowboys to another win over the Redskins. Emmitt Smith rushed for 102 yards on 25 carries with a touchdown.
Week 13: Dallas 20, N.Y. Giants 13
Carter once again did not put up big numbers, but he did enough to help Dallas to another win within the division. The Cowboys erased a 13-3 New York lead, and touchdowns by Smith and Jackie Harris were enough to give Dallas the win.
Week 14: Seattle 29, Dallas 3
The team that had stolen two first-round picks from the Cowboys for Joey Galloway completely dominated Dallas. Galloway caught 7 passes for 82 yards, marking his best game up to that point in a Dallas uniform. However, it was not enough, as the Cowboys fell to 4-9.
Week 15: Arizona 17, Dallas 10
The Cowboys had a 10-7 lead at one point against Arizona, but the team made too many mistakes to pull out a win. Deep-snapper Mike Solwold botched two snaps on field goal attempts in the loss.
Week 16: Dallas 27, San Francisco 21
One year after Terrell Owens danced on the Cowboys’ star, Dallas pulled out the win against San Francisco, which had an 11-3 record heading into the game. Smith gained 126 yards on 24 carries, giving him a chance to gain more than 1,000 yards for the 11th straight season.
Week 17: Detroit 15, Dallas 10
In the final game ever played in the Pontiac Silverdome, Dallas could not beat the 1-14 Lions. Smith gained 77 yards to give him 1,021 for the season, as he became the only player in NFL history to gain more than 1,000 yards in 11 straight seasons.
Troy Aikman retired as expected in April 2001, one month after being released. The Cowboys signed free agent QB Tony Banks, who had previously played with St. Louis and Baltimore. That signing made sense.
Dallas had the #37 pick overall in the draft. Everyone knew Dallas needed a quarterback. Purdue’s Drew Brees played in Austin and was considered to be the second-best quarterback in the draft behind Michael Vick. It’s hard to believe the Cowboys couldn’t have traded up six spots to grab him right before the Chargers, who got him with the first pick of the second round (#32 overall).
Instead, Dallas traded its second round pick (#37 overall) to Indianapolis for a second (#52 overall) and a third (#81 overall). Then Dallas traded the pick it acquired from Indianapolis to Miami for its second (#56) and a fourth (#122). Finally, Dallas traded a second (#56) and a third (#81) to New Orleans for a second (#53) that it used to pick…
Quincy Carter of Georgia, whom most experts thought would go somewhere between the third to fifth round. The concern about Carter? He completed less than half of his passes during his junior season, which is not good.
Dallas acquired another second-round pick and took Alabama safety Tony Dixon, who had the size to match Darren Woodson but had barely an ounce of skill.
Here’s the rest of the 2001 draft for the Cowboys:
2(53) Quincy Carter, QB, Georgia
2(56) Tony Dixon, DB, Alabama
3(93) Willie Blade, DT, Mississippi State
4(122) Markus Steele, LB, USC
5(137) Matt Lehr, C, Virginia Tech
6(171) Daleroy Stewart, DT, Southern Miss
7(207) Colston Weatherington, DE, Central Missouri St.
7(240) John Nix, DT, Southern Miss
7(242) Char-ron Dorsey, T, Florida State
Rather surprisingly, every player in the draft played for the Cowboys at some point. Moreover, some even became starters for a year or two. Probably the best player of the group was Lehr, who eventually became a starter for a couple of years in Atlanta.
Carter was something of the poor-man’s version of Michael Vick. Carter was athletic and could make plays with his feet. However, he shouldn’t have been thrown in to start as a rookie, but when Dallas released Banks during training camp, Carter became the starter. Q-Car only played in half the games in 2001, and the Cowboys eventually had to start four different quarterbacks during 2001 season.
Granted, Carter had his moments, especially in 2003 when he led Dallas to a 10-6 record. Dallas, though, let him go during training camp in 2004. The only players on the list who lasted longer than Carter were Lehr and Dixon, and both of them were gone after the 2004 season.
For the 2000 season, Jerry Jones decided to bring back the timing-based offense the team used during the 1990s. An optimist might have envisioned Joey Galloway and Rocket Ismail using their blazing speed to become the Dallas version of the Greatest Show on Turf, which was what the St. Louis Rams had become. The Cowboys employed former assistant Jack Reilly to install the offense, which was described as “funky” by at least one member of the press.
The preseason wasn’t much to discuss. The Cowboys went 0-4 but predictably blew it off, saying that the record didn’t matter.
When the team opened against Philadelphia, the Cowboys looked every bit as bad as an 0-4 preseason might suggest. The offense was a disaster. The defense was a disaster. And though the Cowboys were around (albeit below) the .500 mark for much of the season, this was not a good football team. The Cowboys opened the year knowing they had to replace Michael Irvin and Deion Sanders. By the end of the year, they had to play without QB Troy Aikman.
Week 1: Philadelphia 41, Dallas 14
The new Dallas offense managed 167 yards. The Dallas defense gave up 306 yards on the ground. By the end of the first half, Dallas trailed, 24-6. It was a new decade, and the Eagles came out fighting. Dallas didn’t.
Week 2: Arizona 32, Dallas 31
The Cowboys led the Cardinals for most of the game, thanks largely to Randall Cunningham’s three-touchdown performance in relief of and injured Troy Aikman. However, with the Cardinals trailing 31-26, they moved the ball from their own 15 to the Dallas 17, and Jake Plummer’s TD pass to Frank Sanders gave Arizona the win.
Week 3: Dallas 27, Washington 21
The Cowboys faced the Redskins on Monday Night Football, trying to avoid the team’s first 0-3 start since 1989. Somewhat surprisingly, the Cowboys pulled it out. Cunningham threw two TD passes, including one to tight end Jackie Harris in the fourth quarter. Emmitt Smith added 83 yards on the ground and a score in the Dallas win.
Week 4: San Francisco 41, Dallas 24
George Teague cemented his place in team lore by racing to midfield and knocking Terrell Owens’ butt to the ground after the San Francisco receiver had celebrated on the Cowboys’ star. Of course, the Cowboys could otherwise do nothing to stop San Francisco, which became the second team in four weeks to score 41 points against the Cowboys.
Week 5: Dallas 16, Carolina 13
The Cowboys had struggled with Carolina in the past, but Dallas found a way to win at Ericcson Stadium. In the first of three overtime games for Dallas in 2000, Tim Seder’s short field goal gave Dallas the win. Smith led the team by rushing for 132 yards.
Week 6: Bye
Week 7: New York Giants 19, Dallas 14
Many tend to forget that Aikman was not espeically popular in Dallas during his final season. With fans begging to see Randall Cunningham, Aikman started the game against the Giants. In the worst performance of his career, he threw five interceptions during a close game, ending the Cowboys chances to get to .500.
Week 8: Dallas 48, Arizona 7
The Cowboys had to be frustrated with their 2-4 start, and their performance against Arizona was just the right cure. Dallas led 27-0 at the half, and the Cowboys poured it on during the second. The 48 points were the most scored by the Cowboys since 1980.
Week 9: Jacksonville 23, Dallas 17
Dallas followed up the big win against Arizona with another crushing loss. The Cowboys trailed 17-7 at halftime, but a Tim Seder field goal and a Randall Cunningham touchdown run sent the game to overtime. Alvis Whitted burned cornerback Phillippi Sparks for a 37-yard TD pass to give the Jaguars the win.
Week 10: Philadelphia 16, Dallas 13
For the second straight week, Dallas lost in overtime. Dallas led 10-0 in the second half, but the Eagles managed to tie the game by the end of regulation. The Cowboys moved the ball to the Dallas 48, but then the Cowboys ran a fullback dive play to Robert Thomas. He fumbled, the Eagles recovered, David Akers kicked a field goal, and the game was over.
Week 11: Dallas 23, Cincinnati 6
Aikman returned to start against the Bengals, and he recorded the last 300-yard game of his career. James McKnight caught eight of Aikman’s passes for 164 yards and a touchdown. The unexpected hero was kicker Tim Seder, who not only kicked three field goals but also ran for a touchdown on a fake field goal in the second half.
Week 12: Baltimore 27, Dallas 0
In the Cowboys’ first game ever against the Baltimore Ravens, Baltimore showed up. Dallas didn’t. Of course, Baltimore had one of the great defenses of all time in 2000, and the Cowboys were hardly a powerhouse. But Dallas had not been shut out since the pre-dynasty days of 1991. Aikman threw three interceptions in the loss.
Week 13: Minnesota 27, Dallas 15
The Cowboys kept things close against the Vikings during the first half, but Daunte Culpepper threw two TD passes to Randy Moss in the second half to help the Vikings to a win on Thanksgiving Day.
Week 14: Tampa Bay 27, Dallas 7
Tampa Bay QB Shaun King only had to complete nine passes for 65 yards thanks to Warrick Dunn’s 210 rushing yards and a defense that let the Cowboys do almost nothing. The Cowboys fell to 4-9, ensuring a losing record.
Week 15: Dallas 32, Washington 13
In the first quarter of the week 15 matchup with the Washington Redskins, Troy Aikman rolled right and was demolished by Washington linebacker LaVar Arrington. Aikman never played again. Here is the play:
Washington was fighting for a playoff spot, and Dallas was down to backup Anthony Wright, who had thrown three NFL passes by the time he took Aikman’s place. The Cowboys still found a way to win. Two receivers– Wane McGarity and Jason Tucker, ran for touchdowns, while Emmitt Smith gained 150 yards on 23 carries.
Week 16: New York Giants 17, Dallas 13
It looked as if Wright was just what Dallas needed. He led the Cowboys to a 13-0 halftime lead against the Giants, who were on their way to the Super Bowl. But New York regrouped and dominated Dallas in the second half.
Week 17: Tennessee 31, Dallas 0
Net passing yards for the Cowboys: 9.
Nothing more to say. The Dallas Morning News summary:
The loss dropped Dallas’ record to 5-11, its worst mark since 1989, when it went 1-15.
More important, it should end any delusions of grandeur Jones has that Dallas is a player or two from competing for a Super Bowl.
Or the playoffs.
The Cowboys, 29-35 in the regular season since 1997, have missed the playoffs twice in the last four years.
Against playoff teams this season, Dallas went 0-8 and was outscored, 202-76.
The Dallas Cowboys had the 19th overall pick in the 2000 draft and needed to begin the process of retooling. Jerry Jones chose to be impatient, though. He negotiated a deal with the Seattle Seahawks to acquire receiver Joey Galloway for the Cowboys’ first-round picks in 2000 and 2001.
At the same time that the team was negotiating with Seattle, Jones had also decided on his replacement for departed head coach Chan Gailey. Jones went with defensive coordinator Dave Campo, who had worked his way up from secondary coach in 1989 to defensive coordinator in the late 1990s.
Campo’s comment about the Galloway signing:
We gave up a first-round pick at No. 19 this year. Hopefully, we’ll be lower than that in the draft order a year from now. And you just don’t find a Joey Galloway when you’re picking in those spots.
Give Campo an A+ for his effort in towing the company line, but the trade was ill-fated from the start. Galloway had held out for much of the 1999 season and only started four games. He had three 1,000 seasons in his first four years, but he only had 335 in 1999.
Most remember that Galloway played one half of football for Dallas in 2000, and he only managed 2,341 yards in four seasons in Dallas. Meanwhile, Seattle took Shaun Alexander with the Cowboys’ #19 pick in 2000, and the Seahawks grabbed Koren Robinson with the #9 pick in the 2001 draft. Robinson’s career never quite exploded, but he did have 1,240 yards in 2002. That was better than any season that Galloway had with either the Cowboys or the Seahawks.
Dallas also traded its third-round pick to Seattle to acquire receiver James McKnight. He ended up leading the team in receiving in 2000 but was gone after one year. The Seahawks did a little bit better with the player they chose with the Cowboys’ third-round pick: Darrell Jackson, who had three 1,000-yards seasons in his first five years in Seattle.
Want a forgettable draft? Try this one:
None of these players was in the league after the 2004 season. None of these players was still on the Dallas roster after the 2003 season. Edwards is the only one who became a starter, but he only recorded four career interceptions.
Most expected the Cowboys to struggle for a few years after their veterans began retiring one by one. However, the team did little to help itself with the decisions to trade valuable draft choices, even if the combination of Galloway and Rocket Ismail was a little bit intriguing at the time.
I don’t recall anyone having faith that the Cowboys would travel to Minnesota and beat the Vikings in the 1999 playoffs. Dallas was 8-8 that season, compared with the Vikings’ 11-5 record. The only glimmer of hope was that the Cowboys had a 17-0 lead over the Vikings earlier that season but lost the lead when Emmitt Smith and Troy Aikman went down with injuries.
For the 16th time in 17 games, the Cowboys held a lead in a football game. This was thanks to a short Eddie Murray field goal and a touchdown run by Smith in the first quarter.
For the 8th time in those 16 games in which the Cowboys led in 1999, Dallas blew the lead. Touchdown passes by Jeff George to Robert Smith and Randy Moss gave the Vikings a 17-10 lead at the half, and the Cowboys could not manage to score again. Rocket Ismail had a great game, catching 8 passes for 163 yards, while Smith gained nearly 100 yards on the ground (15 att., 99 yards). Dallas actually outgained Minnesota for the game, 389 yards to 374. However, Dallas committed three turnovers, including two fumbles.
Incidentally, you really know your Dallas Cowboys if you can name all three receivers who started for the Cowboys that day.
The franchise at that point did not appear to be heading up. Chan Gailey was not a popular coach among the fans or among players who mattered. Two days after the Cowboys’ loss, Jerry Jones fired Gailey. The news item:
Team owner and general manager Jerry Jones spent most of Tuesday morning and early afternoon alone in his Valley Ranch office. Late in the afternoon, he went to Mr. Gailey ‘s office, where the head coach was meeting with assistants.
Mr. Jones stressed that he had no criticism of Mr. Gailey the person. He praised the coach’s integrity and diligence but pointed to the Cowboys’ offensive struggles as the reason for the move.
Mr. Gailey , 48, was the franchise’s fourth coach, hired in February 1998 to succeed Barry Switzer. Mr. Gailey ‘s record was 18-16 in two seasons, including two playoff losses.
“This decision that I had to make today was about football,” said Mr. Jones, who declined to give a timetable for naming a replacement. “It was not about egos. It was not about friendships gone awry.”
It was, in a nutshell, about a Cowboys offense that started strongly each of the last two seasons but waned in November and particularly December.
It was about a team that was the NFL’s most-penalized this season. It was about a team that started this season 3-0 but lost its final eight road games en route to an 8-9 finish, including Sunday’s 27-10 playoff loss at Minnesota.
Was it a product of an aging team wearing down, one that sorely missed injured wide receiver Michael Irvin? Or was it an offense that failed to use the talents of established stars such as quarterback Troy Aikman, running back Emmitt Smith and offensive lineman Larry Allen?
Mr. Jones sounded like a man who clearly faulted the system more than the players.
“They tried their hearts out,” he said. “They worked at it to try to make it productive. We just aren’t as productive offensively as we need to be, and we haven’t been the last two years.”
The 1999 Cowboys were ranked 11th in the league in points scored with 352 and 16th in total yards with 5,178. Dallas would not score more than 300 points in a season until 2005 and would no surpass 352 until 2006. As for yardage, Dallas fell from 16th in 1999 to 30th by 2002.
After the 1999 Cowboys roared back to beat the Redskins to open the 1999 season, the team had some momentum. After the third game 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.