The Cowboys have faced the Atlanta Falcons during week 3 of a season only once before. That game took place in 1986 at Texas Stadium.
This is the second time this year a Then and Now feature has focused on the 1986 season. The previous entry addressed the season-opener against the New York Giants.
Here is a look the matchup in 1986 (then) compared with Sunday’s game against the Falcons (now).
Then (1986): The Cowboys faced the Falcons nine times between 1966 and 1985. Dallas won eight of those games, including two playoff victories.
Now (2015): The Cowboys last played the Falcons in 2012, losing 19-13. Dallas has played Atlanta five times since 2001 and has lost three of those games. The last Dallas win came in 2009.
Then: Atlanta’s starting quarterback was David Archer. He played college football at Snow College in Utah and was not drafted in 1984. He started 23 games with the Falcons between 1985 and 1987.
Now: Dallas would have started its own undrafted quarterback, Tony Romo, but Romo suffered a broken clavicle against the Eagles last week. Instead, the Cowboys will start Brandon Weeden, who has started 21 games during his career with Cleveland and Dallas.
Then: The Falcons’ starting running back was Gerald Riggs. One year earlier, Riggs carried the ball 397 times and gained 1,719 yards. He was still effective in 1986, finishing the season with 1,327 yards. However, he had trouble staying healthy and never reached the 1,000-yard mark again after turning 27.
Now: The Cowboys had their own workhorse in 2014. DeMarco Murray carried the ball 392 times that season and rushed for a franchise-record 1,845 yards. However, running backs in the past, including Riggs, have usually struggled after touching the ball so many times in one season, and the Cowboys led Murray leave via free agency. In two games with the Eagles in 2015, Murray has gained only 11 yards in 21 carries.
Then: Atlanta had not made the playoffs since 1982 and had suffered through a 4-12 season in 1985. Things looked good in 1986 as the team started at 4-0. However, the Falcons lost five straight in the middle of the season and finished at 7-8-1.
Now: Atlanta was one of the better teams in the league between 2010 and 2012. However, the teams suffered through a 4-12 season in 2013 and a 6-10 season in 2014. Hopes are higher now, as Atlanta won its first two games.
Then: The Cowboys won their first two games before losing to the Falcons. Dallas eventually improved its record to 6-2, but an injury to Danny White in week 9 caused a downward spiral. The Cowboys finished with a 7-9 record.
Now: The Cowboys have won their first two games but have lost both Tony Romo and Dez Bryant for the next several weeks. Whether the Cowboys can avoid a downward spiral will determine whether the Cowboys can reach the playoffs again.
A huge play in the Dallas Cowboys’ win over the Philadelphia Eagles yesterday was Danny McCray’s blocked punt, which Kyle Wilbur returned for a touchdown.
I have heard a number of different estimates about the last time the Cowboys returned a blocked punt for a touchdown, but most of the estimates I heard were wrong.
According to the data on Pro-Football-Reference, the last time the Cowboys returned any type of blocked kick for a touchdown was 2007, when Pat Watkins returned a blocked field goal 68 yards for a touchdown against the Minnesota Vikings.
We have to look back to 1992 for the last time the Cowboys scored on a blocked punt. In week 2 of that season, Robert Williams scored after the Cowboys blocked a Sean Landeta punt.
That was actually Williams’s second career touchdown from a blocked punt. One year earlier, he scored after Dallas had blocked a Greg Montgomery punt against the Houston Oilers.
Here is a list of all five times the Cowboys have scored on blocked punts.
1977: Charlie Waters scored after a blocked punt in a 16-10 win over the Eagles.
1985: Jesse Penn returned a blocked punt 46 yards for a touchdown in a 50-24 loss to the Cincinnati Bengals.
1991: Robert Williams returned a blocked punt 18 yards for a touchdown in a 26-23 loss to the Houston Oilers.
1992: Robert Williams recovered a blocked punt and scored in a 34-28 win over the New York Giants.
2015: Kyle Wilbur returned a blocked punt 26 yards for a score in a 20-10 win over the Eagles.
The Cowboys’ defense had completely shut down the Philadelphia offense for the entire first half of the week 2 matchup. DeMarco Murray had negative rushing yards for much of the game, and Sam Bradford looked completely lost.
Dallas had a lead, but it was only 6-0. Nevertheless, three minutes into the second half, Danny McCray broke through to block an Eagle punt, and Kyle Wilbur returned the blocked punt for a touchdown. It marked the first time since 1992 that the Cowboys had returned a blocked punt for a score, and the play gave Dallas a 13-0 lead.
Another three-and-out by the Eagles led to another punt. With 11 minutes left in the third quarter, Romo hit Lance Dunbar on a 39-yard pass down the right sidelines, giving the Cowboys a first down at the Philadelphia 32.
It turned out to be the last pass Romo will throw for several weeks. Two plays later, Romo landed hard on his left side and broke his clavicle. He also fumbled on the play, giving the Eagles life.
The Eagles drove to the Dallas 3, but the real hero of the game for the Cowboys came up huge. Sean Lee picked off Sam Bradford in the end zone.
Philadelphia later kicked a field goal to cut the Cowboys’ lead to 13-3, and Dallas fans had to hope that Weeden had enough to run time off the clock.
Weeden did lead a drive. On the 11th play of that drive, however, Gavin Escobar fumbled the ball, and Malcolm Jenkins returned the ball 34 yards into Dallas territory.
Fortunately, Bradford remained lost. He mishandled a snap from center on the next play, giving the ball back to Dallas with 7:15 remaining in the game.
Less than three minutes later, J.J. Wilcox snagged a deflected pass and recorded another interception of Bradford with 4:40 left.
Weeden hit Terrence Williams on a 42-yard touchdown pass to pad the lead, as the Cowboys won, 20-10.
One week ago, I wrote that last week’s game against the New York Giants was somewhat similar to the team’s season-opening loss to the Washington Redskins in 2010. The difference was that the Cowboys beat the Giants, unlike the result in 2010.
Today brought another bad reminder from 2010.
In week 6 that season, Tony Romo went to the turf with a broken clavicle and was out for the season. After losing to the Giants, the Cowboys were 1-5 and finished the season with a 6-10 record.
In the third quarter of today’s game at Philadelphia, Romo went hard to the turf and broke the same left clavicle. Nobody is sure right now how long he will be out, but it could be as many as 12 weeks.
In games started by the likes of Brad Johnson, Jon Kitna, Stephen McGee, Kyle Orton, and Brandon Weeden since 2008, the Cowboys have gone 6-9. Weeden’s career record as a starter is 5-16.
Weeden will now take over as the starter of a team that has gone 2-0 for the first time since 2008.
Lee came up huge in the win. He recorded 14 total tackles, including two for losses.
His play was a big reason why DeMarco Murray had only 2 rushing yards on 13 carries.
Lee’s interception in the end zone was nearly as big as McCray’s blocked punt. Had the Eagles scored on the drive, it would have been a one-possession game with Weeden leading the Cowboys.
After two games in 2014, Murray had 285 rushing yards on 51 carries for a 5.6 per-carry average.
After two games in 2015, Murray has 11 yards on 21 carries. At this rate, it would take Murray 335 games to reach his total of 1,845 yards from last year.
The Cowboys are in Philadelphia to face the Eagles. Dallas is 1-0 after the win over the Giants in week 1, while the Eagles are 0-1 after falling to Atlanta.
Here’s the live blog:
The Cowboys have faced the Philadelphia Eagles on the road during week 2 on two previous occasions. One took place in 1974 in a Monday Night Football game where Dallas lost on a late field goal.
We’ll forget that one.
The other took place three years earlier during the Cowboys’ first Super Bowl championship season. This week’s then-and-now feature focuses on that 1971 game.
Then (1971)—The Cowboys had overcome years of frustration by reaching the Super Bowl after the 1970 season. The Cowboys then added even more frustration by losing to the Colts in SB V.
Now (2015)—The Cowboys had overcome years of frustration by reaching the playoffs after the 2014 season. The Cowboys and their fans suffered more frustration, though, when Dallas lost the Green Bay Packers in the playoffs.
Then—The 1970 Eagles had a miserable 0-7 start and finished with a 3-10-1 record.
Now—The 2014 Eagles appeared to be in a position to repeat as division champions, but three straight losses in December killed the Eagles’ chances.
Then—Philadelphia’s third-year head coach Jerry Williams was on the bubble in 1971, given that Philadelphia won only seven games in 1969 and 1970 combined. Williams’ team opened at 0-3 in 1971, and he was fired.
Now—Philadelphia’s third-year head coach Chip Kelly is not on the bubble, but he made some head-scratching roster movies during the 2015 offseason. The Eagles lost their 2015 season-opener to the Atlanta Falcons.
Then—The Eagles featured running backs that only the most dedicated trivia buff would remember. Ronnie Bull? Lee Bouggess? Tom Woodeshick?
Now—The Eagles traded their former all-pro back LeSean McCoy to Buffalo, but Philadelphia added well-known backs DeMarco Murray and Ryan Mathews to join Darren Sproles in 2015.
Then—The Cowboys opened their season on the road at Buffalo with a 49-37 shootout win. Craig Morton began the season as the starter, but a quarterback controversy developed. By the end of the season, Roger Staubach was the team’s leader.
Now—The Cowboys pulled off an improbable win against the New York Giants. Tony Romo has been the starter since 2006, and no other quarterback on this team will challenge him.
Then—Dallas jumped out to a 21-0 lead in a 42-7 win over the Eagles.
Now—Sunday at 3 p.m.
As the Dallas Cowboys prepare to face the Philadelphia Eagles on Sunday, most eyes have been on how Dallas will handle former Cowboy DeMarco Murray. He, of course, led the NFL in rushing last season with 1,845 yards and set a franchise record in doing so.
A Dallas running back has gained at least 1,000 yards 25 times during the past, including the 2014 season with Murray. A total of six running backs have accomplished this, including Murray, Emmitt Smith, Tony Dorsett, Herschel Walker, Calvin Hill, and Julius Jones.
Among these players, the Cowboys later had to face Smith, Walker, Hill, and Jones when those backs played for other teams. Like Murray, two of these players joined division rivals. Here is a short review of how those backs fared against the Cowboys.
Hill played with the Cowboys from 1969 to 1974 before joining the World Football League. He returned to the NFL in 1976 and joined the Washington Redskins. He played there until 1978, when he joined the Cleveland Browns.
In five games against Dallas, Hill was never a factor. He never rushed for more than 44 yards, and in five games only gained a total of 108 yards on 20 carries (for an average of 21.6 yards and 4 carries per game).
The Cowboys were able to build a dynasty thanks in part to their trade of Walker to the Minnesota Vikings in 1989. He gained 1,514 rushing yards in Dallas in 1988.
Walker never played against Dallas as a Viking. He later joined the Eagles, though, and also played for the Giants. In nine games against Dallas (including a playoff game), he ran the ball 79 times for 314 yards. He was most effective against the Cowboys in 1992, when he scored three touchdowns in two regular-season games.
Smith’s return to Dallas in 2003 was as anticipated as the game this Sunday. He did not last long at Texas Stadium. He carried the ball 6 times for -1 yard, and a hit by Roy Williams put Emmitt out of the game.
Jones is probably the forgotten one of this group of backs. He gained 1,084 yards in 2005, but Marion Barber had become the dominant back in Dallas by the end of 2007.
Jones played in Seattle in 2008 and 2009 before joining the Saints in 2010. He faced Dallas twice as a Seahawk and once as a Saint. In those three games, he gained 138 yards on 36 carries.
Below is a table of the 1,000-yard rushing performances in team history:
In 2010, the Dallas Cowboys opened their season against the Washington Redskins. Dallas had won the NFC East the year before, and some were talking Super Bowl.
Dallas made far too many mistakes that night. A fumble late in the first half by running back Tashard Choice was returned for a touchdown, giving the Redskins a 10-0 lead.
Despite the miserable game, the Cowboys trailed by only 6 points with less than two minutes remaining. The Cowboys drove from their own 19 to the Washington 13. Three seconds remained. Tony Romo threw the ball to the corner of the end zone, and Roy Williams appeared to catch the game winner.
But tackle Alex Barron was called for a penalty, and Dallas lost. Nothing went the Cowboys’ way that year, as Dallas finished the season with a 6-10 record.
Five years later, the Cowboys hosted another division rival, the New York Giants. Dallas won the NFC East last year, and some have talked about the Super Bowl for the Cowobys.
Dallas made far too many mistakes tonight. A fumble by Cole Beasley late in the first half resulted in a Giant touchdown, giving the Giants a 10-6 lead. Another interception before halftime led to a Giant field goal.
Despite the miserable game, the Cowboys trailed the Giants by 6 with less than two minutes remaining. The Cowboys needed to drive from their own 28 and score a touchdown with 1:34 remaining and no time outs.
Tony Romo went to work, hitting four passes to move to the New York 11. With 13 seconds remaining, Romo picked up a bad snap, threw the ball over the middle, and hit Jason Witten with the game-winning touchdown in the end zone.
No penalty this time. The Cowboys pulled off an improbable comeback, downing the Giants 27-26.
A Good Win After a Bad Game
These are the types of wins that good teams pull out. Dallas probably should have lost this one because of the many mistakes, but the Cowboys had enough left in the tank to get the win. It turns out that this was the latest (7 seconds remaining) game-winning touchdown pass in the history of the Cowboys.
Dallas outgained the Giants 436 to 267, but the Cowboys had three turnovers yet caused none.
Running Back Committee Worked Just Fine
The Dallas running backs were not an issue at all. Joseph Randle, Lance Dunbar, and Darren McFadden combined for 79 rushing yards and 131 receiving yards.
Dunbar came up huge on the final drive, catching two passes for 40 yards.
Randle looks like a legitimate starter. He had strong runs throughout the game and finished with 65 yards on 16 carries.
Giants Made Their Own Mistakes
This one cannot be easy for Giants fans.
Even Dallas fans ought to admit a pass-interference call on Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie on Terrance Williams was pretty bad. That play set up Tony Romo’s first touchdown pass to Gavin Escobar.
Later in the game, it looked as if the Cowboys had just made a massive mistake. With the Giants leading 23-20, the Giants had moved the ball to the Dallas 33. Rashad Jennings ran the ball for two yards on a 2nd-and-2, but Jeremy Mincey was called for unnecessary roughness. That gave the Giants a first down at the Dallas 16.
The Giants moved the ball all the way to the Dallas 1. With 1:43 remaining and the Giants facing a 3rd-and-1, Eli Manning rolled right. Although Dallas had no time outs, Manning threw the ball away. The Giants kicked the field goal to take a six-point lead, but the Cowboys had life.
Immediately after the game, reports said Dez Bryant broke a bone in his foot and will be out four to six weeks.
Dallas also lost rookie defensive end Randy Gregory with a high ankle sprain.
The Dallas Cowboys host the New York Giants in the season opener on Sunday Night Football.
The only other NFC East team to play today was Washington. The Redskins lost the Miami Dolphins, 17-10. The Eagles will travel to Atlanta to face the Falcons on Monday.
The Dallas Cowboys open their season on Sunday night when they host the New York Giants. The Cowboys swept the series last season, and Dallas now has a four-game winning streak over New York.
This will mark the 107th meeting between the teams (including one playoff game) dating back to 1960. Dallas leads the overall series 61-43-2.
The Giants are coming off a 6-10 season in 2014 and are 6.5-point underdogs. Most simulations have predicted a Dallas win.
FiveThirtyEight: Dallas has a win probability of 73%.
WhatIfSports: Dallas has a win probability of 59.9%, with the Cowboys winning by an average score of 25-22 in simulations.
AccuScore: Dallas has a win probability of 54%. Here is the summary:
“Expect a close game with the New York Giants winning 45% of simulations, and the Dallas Cowboys 54% of simulations. In close games, turnover margin is especially important. The New York Giants commit fewer turnovers in 32% of simulations and they go on to win 56% when they take care of the ball. The Dallas Cowboys wins 60% of the simulations in which they commit fewer turnovers. Eli Manning is averaging 276 passing yards per sim. If he can have a great game with better than average passing yards and at least a 2 to 1 TD to INT ratio (34% chance) then he helps his team win 63%. Tony Romo is averaging 269 passing yards per sim. If he can have a great game with better than average passing yards and at least a 2 to 1 TD to INT ratio (41% chance) then he helps his team win 68%.”
Sunday night’s game between the Dallas Cowboys and New York Giants will be the sixth time the teams have faced one another during the opening week of the season. Dallas has a 5-0 record in the previous games.
One of those five games appeared on Monday Night Football on September 8, 1986. Here is a look at that game (then) and the Sunday night game this year (now).
The Cowboys rebounded after missing the playoffs in 1984 to capture the NFC East title. Two wins over the Giants, including a 28-21 win in week 15, were critical, as the Cowboys returned the postseason for the last time under Tom Landry.
The Cowboys broke a string of three straight 8-8 seasons to go 12-4 and capture the NFC East for the first time since 2009. Two wins over the Giants helped the team, as the Cowboys reached the postseason for the first time under Jason Garrett.
Dallas entered the 1986 season with veteran Danny White and unproven backup Steve Pelluer. White had started 14 games in 1985 and led Dallas to a 10-4 record in those games.
White started strong in 1986, as the team jumped out the gate with a 6-2 record. In six games, White threw 12 touchdown passes. However, Carl Banks of the Giants sacked White early in a week 9 game, and White’s wrist broke. Without White, Dallas struggled and finished with the team’s first losing record since 1964.
Tony Romo enters the season more healthy than he was in 2014. He had a strong season in 2014 despite his back problems, throwing for 3705 yards and 34 touchdowns.
An injury to Romo, however, would be as devastating to the Cowboys in 2015 as the injury to White was in 1986. Backup Brandon Weeden has not shown he can produce wins, so the Cowboys need to hope Romo stays on the field.
The Cowboys already had a former Heisman Trophy winner and future Hall-of-Famer at running back in Tony Dorsett. In 1986, the team added a second Heisman winner when Herschel Walker joined the team after a short career in the USFL. Walker eventually replaced Dorsett in the Dallas backfield.
DeMarco Murray rushed for more yards in one season in 2014 than Dorsett, Walker, or Emmitt Smith. However, instead of adding to the backfield in 2015, the Cowboys let Murray walk via free agency. The 2015 team will have committee at the running-back position.
Most of the rest of the 1986 team featured aging stars (Randy White, Too Tall Jones, Tony Hill) and rather mediocre role players. White’s injury marked the beginning of the end, as Dallas won only 11 games between 1987 and 1989.
Dallas freed itself of most of its fading stars, who included the likes of DeMarcus Ware, Anthony Spencer, and Miles Austin. The team replaced those players with a young and talented group, including three of the best young offensive linemen in the NFL.
Unlike the 1986 team, the arrow for the 2015 Cowboys is pointing up. But it will take a full season from Tony Romo and good performances from several new players on defense for this team to reach heights the franchise has not reached in two decades.