Dallas Cowboys History

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Remembering 2009: Dallas 24, Philadelphia 0

It has become easy to forget that the Dallas Cowboys were supposed to have turned a corner in 2009 when they beat the Philadelphia Eagles in back-to-back games. The first win clinched the NFC East title for Dallas. The second gave the Cowboys their only playoff win since 1996.

Here are the video highlights. Some faces are the same, but you will see quite a bit of Marion Barber and Patrick Crayton, along with big plays by Felix Jones, Doug Free (on Jones’ touchdown run), and Jay Ratliff.

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What-If Wednesday: What if the Cowboys had defeated the Lions in the 1991 playoffs?

In the weekly What-If Wednesday 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 Cowboys’ 1991 playoff loss to the Detroit Lions.

In real life…

In 1991, the Cowboys ended a six-year playoff drought by winning their final five regular-season games. The team then won its first playoff game since 1982 by defeating the Chicago Bears 17-13 at Soldier Field.

It was not Troy Aikman who led the Cowboys during this winning streak. After Aikman suffered a knee injury in a win over Washington on November 24, Steve Beuerlein took over. He was not sensational; in fact, he failed to throw for 200 yards in three of his five starts, and he never threw more than one touchdown in any game. However, he used his weapons, including Michael Irvin, effectively.

Dallas travelled to Detroit to face the Lions at the Silverdome. Although Aikman was able to play, Jimmy Johnson went with Beuerlein. The magic was no longer there, though. Dallas fell behind early, and with the team trailing 17-6 at halftime, Johnson went with Aikman. The change did not make a difference, as the Cowboys fell 38-6.

The Lions faced the Redskins at RFK Stadium in the NFC Championship Game but lost in a rout, 41-10.

Here are some highlights from the Cowboys-Lions game:

What if the Cowboys had beaten the Lions?

Admittedly, this is not a great what-if piece (and see below regarding an alternative what-if regarding Barry Sanders). Few expected the Cowboys to be a playoff contender in 1991, so getting one win made this a feel-good season.

1. The Beuerlein-Aikman Debate Would Have Continued.

By 1991, Aikman had accomplished almost nothing. He had not played a full season and had won only 14 games as a starter. Although he had led the Cowboys on a four-game winning streak earlier in the 1991 season, he did not yet look like a franchise quarterback.

Beuerlein was simply effective. He did not put the team on his shoulders during the streak, yet the team seemed to have a confidence it had lacked at times, even in 1991. The fact that Beuerlein had led the team to its first playoff win in 9 years played in his favor.

Had Beuerlein led the Cowboys to a win over the Lions, the team would have had a difficult time avoiding a quarterback controversy heading into the 1992 season, no matter what happened in the NFC Championship Game.

2. The Cowboys Would Not Beat the Redskins.

The 1991 season turned out to be Joe Gibbs’ last during his first stint in Washington. The team had finished 14-2 after starting the season at 11-0.

The first team to beat Washington in 1991 was Dallas in the game where Aikman suffered his knee injury. Dallas jumped out to a 14-7 halftime lead, and thanks to Beuerlein’s touchdown pass to Irvin early in the fourth quarter, the Cowboys were able to hang on for a 24-21 win.

The odds that the Cowboys would repeat are minimal, no matter who started at quarterback. I ran simulations on What If Sports using both Aikman and Beuerlein as starters. After 20 attempts, the Cowboys still had not won a simulated game.

3. The Dynasty Would Have Happened Anyway.

The Cowboys’ 1991 season was not great because the team expected to reach the Super Bowl. It was great because the team finally mattered again. A win over the Lions would have extended the good feelings, but few would think it would have had any effect on the Cowboys’ dynasty that began in 1992.

A BONUS WHAT-IF

Yes, we have a bonus what-if this week.

Let’s ask: What if the Cowboys have drafted Barry Sanders instead of Troy Aikman in the 1989 Draft?

This move would have made no sense in 1989, though. The Cowboys already had a franchise running back in Herschel Walker,  but Walker was not able to help the Cowboys to win more than 3 games in 1988. The Lions lost their first 5 games in 1989 with Sanders playing running back, and when the Lions won their first game in week 6 that year, Sanders did not play. (To be sure, Sanders ended the season while playing great, rushing for 382 yards and 6 touchdowns during 3 wins in the final 3 games.)

Dallas did not need an individual talent like Sanders. The Cowboys needed a franchise quarterback and many other pieces to the puzzle. The team was fortunate to find a franchise back one year later when the Cowboys took Emmitt Smith.

And here’s why I did not focus on drafting Sanders in 1989—would anyone want to think about the Cowboys’ of the early 1990s with Steve Walsh and Barry Sanders instead of Troy Aikman and Emmitt Smith? I thought not.

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What-If Wednesday: What if the Cowboys had won the 1980 NFC Championship Game?

In the weekly What-If Wednesday 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 1980 NFC Championship Game between the Dallas Cowboys and Philadelphia Eagles.

In real life…

The label of quarterback Danny White as a failure began with the Dallas Cowboys’ loss in the 1980 NFC Championship Game.

What if the Cowboys had stopped Wilbert Montgomery and the Philadelphia Eagles in the 1980 NFC Championship Game?

What if the Cowboys had stopped Wilbert Montgomery and the Philadelphia Eagles in the 1980 NFC Championship Game?

White was, however, anything but a failure. He led the 1980 Cowboys to a better record than the 1979 Cowboys had posted with Roger Staubach at the helm. And one week before the 1980 NFC title game, White threw two late touchdown passes to bring the Cowboys from behind to beat the Atlanta Falcons in one of the great games in NFL history.

White’s magic ran out at Veterans Stadium on January 11, 1981. In 12-degree weather, White completed only 12 of 31 passes for 127 yards with an interception.

The Eagles took a 7-0 lead with Wilbert Montgomery’s most famous play:

Although the Cowboys tied the game before halftime, Dallas could not overcome a 10-point third quarter by Philadelphia. Dallas lost 20-7.

The Eagles turned around and lost to the Oakland Raiders in Super Bowl XV. Neither the Eagles nor the Cowboys made another Super Bowl during the 1980s.

What if the Cowboys had defeated the Eagles?

1. The Blue-Jersey Curse Would End

Ask a Cowboys fan over the age of 40 about origins of the blue-jersey curse. Many would point to the 1980 title game.

(Of course, older fans would point to SB V, when Dallas lost to the Baltimore Colts while wearing blue.)

A big win at Philadelphia would have ended the curse, and it is possible that the Cowboys might have worn blue more often. Instead, most of us don’t want to see those blue jerseys.

2. White Might Have Avoided Comparisons with Roger Staubach and, later, Tony Romo

Many fans like to compare current QB Tony Romo to Danny White because both lost big games.

The comparison is not fair because of the big games involved.

Fans during White’s era also liked to compare him to Roger Staubach, and the comparisons were almost always negative towards White.

White led the Cowboys to three consecutive NFC title games and five playoff appearances in six years. A win at Philadelphia might have done wonders to avoid these comparisons.

3. A Sixth Trip

The Cowboys would have made Super Bowl XV with a win over Philadelphia. It would have been the Cowboys’ sixth Super Bowl appearance since 1970 and their second Super Bowl trip to the Superdome in four seasons. Moreover, the Cowboys would have played a Super Bowl in New Orleans for a third time.

The other two trips to New Orleans? Wins in SB VI and SB XII.

4. However…

I ran 10 simulations of a Super Bowl XV between the Cowboys and Raiders on SimMatchup Football. It does not look good. Oakland won 8 of the 10 simulations by an average score of 22-17.

I cannot express my disappointment clearly enough.

5. And So No, White Would Not Avoid Comparisons with Roger Staubach or Tony Romo

Do Cowboys fans remember Craig Morton fondly? He was, of course, the first Dallas QB to lead the Cowboys to a Super Bowl.

The answer is no. And if Danny White led the Cowboys to Super Bowl XV and lost 22-17 to the Raiders, nobody would remember White or the 1980 season fondly.

Sorry, Danny.

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What-If Wednesday: What if the Cowboys had hired Mike Shanahan after the 2008 season?

In the weekly What-If Wednesday 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 Mike Shanahan, who became available as a head coach after the 2008 season.

In real life…

The Dallas Cowboys were supposed to be Super Bowl contenders in 2008. The team had gone 13-3 in 2007 before losing to the eventual champion Giants in the playoffs. The team a deep pool of talent in 2008, and many predicted the Cowboys would take the next step in their evolution.

Mike Shanahan

What if the Cowboys had hired Mike Shanahan after the 2008 season?

Some fans and some in the media called on Jerry Jones to fire Wade Phillips after the playoff loss in 2007 because he had allowed players to vacation during the off week.

When the ’08 Cowboys lost 44-6 to the Eagles in the final week of the season and missed the playoffs, few could believe that Phillips would return. And when Mike Shanahan was fired as the Broncos head coach, many thought Jerry Jones should fire Wade and bring in Shanahan.

Instead, Shanahan took a year off before becoming head coach of the Redskins.

What if the Cowboys had fired Phillips after the 2008 season and hired Shanahan?

The argument in favor of hiring Shanahan was that the team needed a high-profile coach to coach the high-profile Pro Bowl players. Shanahan had won two Super Bowl titles in Denver, so it stands to reason that he would repeat his success in Dallas. Right?

1. The Cowboys under Shanahan would have no better success in finding and developing talent.

Between 1996 and 2005, Shanahan had great success, including two Super Bowl titles and seven playoff appearances.

Between 2006 and 2008, the team had no playoff appearances. The team had some talent with quarterback Jay Cutler, receiver Brandon Marshall, and the likes of Champ Bailey and Elvis Dumervil, but to the extent Shanahan was involved with personnel decisions, the team was not improving its talent significantly in the last few years.

The Cowboys still had talent in 2009, but several key players were starting to age. The team needed to rebuild its line, find new skills players, and so forth.

It’s hard to believe that Jerry would give up the right to make personnel decisions, so Shanahan likely would just had a voice. And unless his voice made the Cowboys change their draft strategy in 2009, the results probably would have been the same.

2. Shanahan’s magic would not rekindle in Dallas.

The Broncos fired Shanahan after the team started the 2008 season at 8-5 but lost the final three to finish at 8-8. The Broncos missed the playoffs for the third consecutive year.

So the Cowboys were going to solve their annual December woes by hiring the coach of a team that had blown its playoff chances by losing three straight?

No.

A big part of the reasoning behind hiring someone like Shanahan is that a coach who has been to the top before will know how to get there again. And, to be sure, managers in baseball, coaches in basketball, and even coaches in college football have been able to repeat success elsewhere.

For whatever reason, that has rarely happened in the NFL. No head coach has won a Super Bowl with multiple teams.

Sure, Shanahan’s Redskins beat the Cowboys to make the playoffs in 2012. His record in the other seasons in Washington, though, is 12-24, and he has made a number of questionable decisions during his tenure.

3. The Rams would have hired Jason Garrett has head coach and fired him three years later.

Jason Garrett nearly left the Cowboys after the 2008 season to become the head coach of the St. Louis Rams. Instead, he stayed in Dallas and eventually became head coach.

The Rams were a mess in 2009, finishing at 1-15.

Garrett is smart, but Garrett would not fix that mess. He would have been back on the street after the 2011 season.

4. The Cowboys would have another head coach by now—Jason Garrett.

It is entirely possible that that Jerry would have grown tired of 8-8 seasons under Shanahan had fired him after the third season in 2011.

In hunting for a new coach, Jerry turns to…

Jason Garrett, who was recently fired as head coach of the Rams in our alternative universe.

 

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The Weekly What-If: What if the Cowboys had beaten the Broncos at any point in the past 15 years?

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

1998: Denver 42, Dallas 23

2001: Denver 26, Dallas 24

2005: Denver 24, Dallas 21

2009: Denver 17, Dallas 10

What if the Cowboys had won any of these games?

1998

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.

Instead…

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.

2001

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.

Instead…

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.

2005

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.

Instead…

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.

2009

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.

Instead…

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.

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What-If Wednesday: What if the Cowboys had taken Junior Seau in the 1990 draft?

In the weekly What-If Wednesday 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 1990 NFL Draft, where the Cowboys targeted USC linebacker Junior Seau.

In real life…

The 1988 Dallas Cowboys finished with a league-worst 3-13 record, giving the team the first overall pick in 1989 NFL Draft. Most knew the Cowboys would take quarterback Troy Aikman, and the team did so.

What if the Cowboys had taken Junior Seau in the 1990 NFL Draft?

What if the Cowboys had taken Junior Seau in the 1990 NFL Draft?

The team also took a chance in the supplemental draft that year by picking up another quarterback in Steve Walsh. The idea was that if Aikman had failed, the team might have a franchise QB in Walsh.

Aikman evolved into a franchise quarterback, but that took time. Meanwhile, the team finished with a 1-15 record and would have had the first overall pick in the 1990 draft. However, the team lost its pick because of its selection of Walsh. That meant that the first pick went to the Colts, who took Jeff George.

Most believe that the Cowboys would have taken USC linebacker Junior Seau, who went to the San Diego Chargers with the fifth pick overall. The Cowboys later traded up to get the #17 overall pick and took Florida running back Emmitt Smith. Not bad.

Seau played 20 seasons in the NFL but tragically died in 2012.

What if the Cowboys had drafted Seau?

1. The Cowboys would not have taken Walsh in the supplemental draft.

The Cowboys would have needed a high draft pick in 1990 to take Seau.  This means that the Cowboys would have likely  needed that first overall pick they lost because of the Walsh pick.

Walsh was the starting QB in the team’s only win in 1989. Of course, his numbers hardly suggest that the team would have lost without him. He completed 10 of 30 passes for 142 yards in the win over the Redskins.

2. The Cowboys would have taken Smith with the 17th overall pick.

The Cowboys traded a 1st and a 3rd pick to Pittsburgh to get the 17th overall pick. Even with the team taking Seau with the first overall selection, the Cowboys would have traded up to get Smith.

3. The Cowboys would not have had the 70th overall pick to take tackle Erik Williams in 1991.

The Cowboys traded Walsh to the Saints for three draft choices. One of these picks was the 70th overall selection in the 1991 draft, and the Cowboys took tackle Erik Williams.

Whether the Cowboys would have taken Williams at all is a good question. Williams came out of Central State in Ohio and was one of the great finds for any NFL team during the 1990s. Perhaps the Cowboys would get him in the 4th or 5th round, but the Cowboys would have had to grab him somewhere around the 97th pick.

The other picks received from the Walsh trade did not yield great results. The Cowboys traded the 14th pick from the Saints to the Patriots in exchange for 1st and 4th round picks. Dallas then traded down again to wind up with the 20th overall selection. However, the Cowboys were only able to pick up defensive lineman Kelvin Pritchett and linebacker Darrick Brownlow with those selections.

4. Seau would have been a major part of the dynasty years.

The Cowboys had some quality linebackers in Ken Norton, Dixon Edwards, Darrin Smith, and Robert Jones. However, Seau was significantly better than any of these players. The team would have had its core group of Aikman, Emmitt Smith, Michael Irvin, Daryl Johnston, Jay Novacek, Alvin Harper, Kevin Smith, Darren Woodson, Russell Maryland, Charles Haley, and so forth. Adding Seau to this mix would just make the team better.

5. Seau would have left via free agency.

The Cowboys did not put a high priority on signing linebackers during the championship years of the 1990s. The Cowboys let the likes of Ken Norton, Robert Jones, Vinson Smith, Darrin Smith, and Dixon Edwards leave via free agency.

Keeping Seau would have meant the team would have lost another player. This would have made it difficult for the team to sign Deion Sanders or keep some other stars during the mid-1990s.

My bet? Seau would have left via free agency after the 1995 season.

* * *

In 2011, I wrote another piece asking what if the Cowboys had hired Norv Turner instead of Wade Phillips in 2007. Here is that article.

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What-If Wednesday: What if the Cowboys had beaten the Rams in the 1976 playoffs?

In the weekly What-If Wednesday 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 1976 divisional playoff game between the Cowboys and Los Angeles Rams.

In real life…

The Dallas Cowboys made the Super Bowl in 1975 and returned with a solid season in 1976. The team finished with an 11-3 record.

Scott Laidlaw scored from the 1 to give Dallas a 10-7 lead over the Rams in the 1976 playoffs. What if this was the game-winner?

Scott Laidlaw scored from the 1 to give Dallas a 10-7 lead over the Rams in the 1976 playoffs. What if this was the game-winner?

Few probably remember that the Cowboys and Rams had quite a playoff rivalry. Between 1973 and 1985, the teams faced each other eight times in the playoffs, with each team winning four games.

The bad part for the Cowboys was that three of the wins for the Rams took place at Texas Stadium. The first of those losses was a 14-12 defeat at home during the 1976 playoffs.

Dallas had a 10-7 halftime lead thanks to a Scott Laidlaw touchdown, but the Cowboys fell behind in the fourth quarter after a Lawrence McCutcheon score. The Cowboys drove into Ram territory more than once but could not punch the ball in to regain the lead.

Charlie Waters had one of the great games in team history. He blocked two punts and had a key interception, but his efforts were not enough.

The clip below shows Waters’ second block, which could have set up the game-winner. However, on a 4th-and-10 play, Roger Staubach’s pass to Billy Joe DuPree came up inches short, and the Rams held on for the 14-12 win.

The Cowboys had almost no rushing attack, and many blamed the loss on the running game. This team featured the likes of Preston Pearson, Robert Newhouse, Doug Dennison, and Laidlaw.

The loss played a part in the Cowboys trading four draft picks to the Seattle Seahawks for the rights to the second overall pick. With that pick, Dallas took Heisman Trophy winner Tony Dorsett of Pittsburgh.

What if the Cowboys had defeated the Rams?

If the Cowboys had beaten the Rams, Dallas would have traveled to Minnesota to face the Vikings on December 26, 1976. One year earlier, the Cowboys had beaten the Vikings on the road thanks to the famous Hail Mary game.

1. The Cowboys would have beaten the Vikings again.

This is a bold statement, given that the Vikings were the best team in the NFC in 1976.  How could I possibly say that that Cowboys would win another game at Minnesota?

WhatIfSports said so. I ran ten simulations of the game on that site, and the Cowboys won seven of them by an average score of 17-15.

This is a Cowboys site. Let’s just accept our win.

2. The Cowboys would have lost another Super Bowl.

I ran another ten simulations of a Cowboys-Raiders matchup in Super Bowl XI. The Cowboys lost eight of them. That would mean back-to-back Super Bowl losses.

3. The Cowboys would still make the trade with Seattle to obtain Dorsett.

This is probably the most important prediction. The Cowboys had three second-round picks, and that would not change even if the Cowboys had made it to Super Bowl XI. It’s hard to imagine the Seahawks front office would change its mind just because the Cowboys made it to yet another Super Bowl.

4. The Cowboys win Super Bowl XII but fail to make Super Bowl XIII.

The Cowboys would have become the second team (after Miami) to make three consecutive Super Bowls. After losing the previous two, Dallas would have won Super Bowl XII (just as the Cowboys did in real life).

However, the Cowboys would not make the big game four times, losing in the 1978 playoffs.

* * *

What about the other playoff losses to the Rams?

The Cowboys lost to the Rams in 1979, 1983, and 1985. The 1979 game was especially tough because it was Roger Staubach’s final game.

Had the Cowboys won that game, they would have hosted the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Given that the Rams handled Tampa Bay in real life, it would stand to reason that the Cowboys would fare well. That means that the Cowboys would have faced the Steelers in the Super Bowl for the third time in five seasons.

(Again…Cowboys blog…Dallas wins.)

The Cowboys were not going to make the Super Bowl in 1983 or 1985 even if the Cowboys had beaten Los Angeles. The only difference a win over the Rams would have made in 1983 is that perhaps Tom Landry would not have started Gary Hogeboom during the first half of the 1984 season if White had led Dallas to a playoff win the year before.

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What-If Wednesday: What if Miles Austin failed to break out in 2009?

I am trying a new feature during mid-week. It’s called What-If Wednesday. We will review some event (draft, game, or whatever) and consider what might have happened if history had been different. This week’s post focuses on receiver Miles Austin.

What if Miles Austin never had his breakout performance against the Chiefs in 2009?

What if Miles Austin never had his breakout performance against the Chiefs in 2009?

In real life…

Between 2006 and week 4 of the 2009 season, Austin had a total of 23 receptions for 435 yards and 4 TDs. His biggest play as a professional was a kickoff return for a touchdown in the 2006 playoffs when the Cowboys faced the Seahawks (better known for Tony Romo’s fumble while holding a field-goal attempt).

Although Austin showed some big-play potential, he was never a major weapon. He caught a 42-yard touchdown pass in the season-opener in 2009 but failed to catch a pass two weeks later against the Carolina Panthers.

He got more opportunities to see the field when the 2-2 Cowboys visited the 0-4 Chiefs in week 5 of the 2009 season because of an injury to Roy Williams. The game was nearly a disaster for Dallas, as the Chiefs took a 13-3 lead in the second half. However, Austin caught touchdown passes of 59 and 60 yards in the fourth quarter and in overtime, giving the Cowboys a 26-20 win.

After the bye week in 2009, the Cowboys faced the Falcons, Seahawks, and Eagles. In real life, Austin scored four combined touchdowns in those three games, including the game-winner against the Eagles, and those three wins improved the team’s record to 6-2. The Cowboys wound up with an 11-5 record and won the NFC East. The team beat the Eagles in the playoffs for the Cowboys’ first playoff win since 1996.

What if Austin had not had a breakout game against the Chiefs?

At the time the Chiefs had taken a 13-3 lead, Austin had caught four passes for 71 yards. Until that point, he had never caught more than three passes in a single game. Without his performance in the fourth quarter and in overtime against the Chiefs, the Cowboys would have had to mount a comeback with Patrick Crayton and Sam Hurd. It’s fair to say that the Cowboys likely would have lost and dropped to 2-3.

1. Jerry Jones fires Wade Phillips in 2009 and appoints Jason Garrett as interim head coach.

The bye was the next week after the Chiefs game, and the chances that Jerry Jones would have fired Wade Phillips immediately were substantial. Nobody had forgotten that the Cowboys had missed the playoffs in 2008, and calls for Phillips’ head were loud and clear.

Of course, Jason Garrett was still considered a solid candidate to become a head coach, so what ended up happening in 2010 likely would have happened in 2009.

2. The Cowboys miss the 2009 playoffs.

Without Austin, the Cowboys likely lose one or more of the three games against the Falcons, Seahawks, and Eagles. The Cowboys lost three of their next five after beating the Eagles in the actual season, so the chances that Dallas would finish at 11-5 would have dropped precipitously. And as it turns out, any record below 11-5 in the NFC in 2009 would have eliminated the Cowboys from the playoffs.

3. The Cowboys still take Dez Bryant in the 2010 Draft.

The Cowboys would have had a greater need at receiver in 2010 without Austin as a clear-cut starter. Even with a higher pick, though, the Cowboys would not have had great options in the 2010 draft. The team might have taken Demaryius Thomas (taken at #22 by the Broncos), but there is a better chance the Cowboys still would have taken Dez Bryant.

4. The Cowboys retain Patrick Crayton in 2010.

The Cowboys would had few options if they wanted to pursue a receiver in free agency in 2010. Three of the free agents were former Cowboys in Terrell Owens, Antonio Bryant, and Joey Galloway, and none of them were coming back. The other free-agent names—Derrick Mason, Nate Burleson, Kevin Walter, Arnez Battle, Marty Booker, Chris Chambers, Muhsin Muhammad— were no better.

With Austin as nothing more than a fourth or fifth receiver, the Cowboys would have Roy Williams and Dez Bryant as the starters. Patrick Crayton would be far less expendable, so the chances that the Cowboys would have kept him would have been much greater.

5. Without Austin, the Cowboys would have an even longer playoff drought.

Although injuries slowed Austin in 2011 and 2012, he was a major factor in the team turning the 2009 season around and winning the franchise’s first playoff game since 1996. Without Austin, the Cowboys would have likely missed the playoffs in 2009 and would probably have had the same success (that is, lack of success) since 2010.

In other words, without Austin’s breakout performance, this team could be suffering through a five-year playoff drought, and the gap between playoff wins could be 16 years.

6. Jason Garrett would not still be the coach in 2013.

If the Cowboys’ last playoff game were indeed the 2007 loss to the Giants in the NFC divisional playoffs, it is very difficult to believe that Jason Garrett would survive as head coach between 2009 and 2013. In fact, if the Cowboys had the same fortunes in 2010 without Austin as they had with him, Jones probably would have fired Garrett then and started over.

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Most Obscure Player of 1995: Jon Baker

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The Dallas Cowboys spent their time during the 1995 NFL Draft looking for backups. The dreadful draft resulted in the selections of Sherman Williams, Kendell Watkins, Charlie Williams, Alundis Brice, and Dana Howard. Three of the ten players selected never played a down with the team, and only tight end Eric Bjornson ever became a starter. The team had so much talent that there was little room for rookies.

Most Obscure Player of 1995: Kicker Jon Baker.

Most Obscure Player of 1995: Kicker Jon Baker.

One rookie defied the odds, however, to make the final cuts in August.  Kicker Jon Baker impressed the Cowboys with high kickoffs that had average hang times of 4.1 seconds. This was much better than kickoffs by Chris Boniol, who could only manage hang times of 3.8 seconds.

When the Cowboys opened at the Meadowlands on September 4, 1995, the player kicking off was Baker. In three games, he kicked off 16 times with a 64.9 average per kickoff.

Boniol struggled early during the 1995 season, missing a field goal and an extra point against the Vikings in week 3, and some thought the Cowboys might turn to Baker for field goals as well.

That never happened, though. Two days after the Cowboys’ win over the Vikings, Dallas cut Baker to allow Boniol to resume kickoff duties. The theory was that Boniol would find a better rhythm if he kicked off and kicked field goals.

The result? Boniol did not miss another field goal all season (though he did miss an extra point).

Baker did not play again until 1999, when he filled in for the Kansas City Chiefs for a couple of games.

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Most Obscure Player of 1994: Darren Studstill

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The winner of the Most Obscure Player Award for 1994 is defensive back Darren Studstill. He was a sixth-round draft choice for the Cowboys in 1994 and was active in four games.

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The Cowboys had won back-to-back Super Bowls by 1994 but had just parted ways with Jimmy Johnson. The team was going to need some young players after losing starters to free agency.

The draft will be known as the one that produced Hall of Famer Larry Allen. Others will remember the less impressive Shante Carver and George Hegamin.

Three players—Willie Jackson, DeWayne Dotson, and Toddrick McIntosh—played with other teams but not with the Cowboys.

Most Obscure Player of 1994: Darren Studstill

Most Obscure Player of 1994: Darren Studstill

In the sixth round, the Cowboys took a chance on a converted quarterback from West Virginia. Studstill had shared playing time with Jake Kelchner for the undefeated Mountaineers in 1993, but Studstill was too inaccurate to play QB in the NFL.

According to the website Fantasy Football Challenge, Studstill played in four games in 1994. He never recorded a single statistic.

Dallas waived him after training camp before the 1995 season, and he signed with Jacksonville. He played in parts of two seasons for the Jaguars but was out of the league after 1996.

Studstill later became a high school football coach but has run into problems. This is from Wikipedia:

After being named head coach of Royal Palm Beach High School just one season earlier Studstill was fired in August 2009 just days before the start of training camp for the 2009-2010 season despite great success on the field in his inaugural campaign. He was dismissed partly because he and Principal Guarn Sims differed over the way Studstill handled finances and supervised his assistant coaches, though no one has alleged deliberate wrongdoing by Studstill. In one season under Studstill Royal Palm Beach went 11-2 and reached the regional finals, and he was a finalist for the county’s Lou Groza Coach of the Year award. Before being fired Studstill was given at least two opportunities to resign but declined. An official for the school was quoted as saying “In no way is it an attack on his personal or professional character. This is an isolated issue that directly deals with the direction of the football program.” He will also retain his position at the school as a disciplinarian.

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