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.
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.
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.
It looks as if DeMarcus Ware will miss as many as four games with a quad injury. Assuming he misses Sunday’s game at Philadelphia, it will be the first time he has missed a game during his career.
That means the last time that the Cowboys played a game without Ware was the season finale in 2004 against the Giants.
Dallas had a 16-7 lead heading into the fourth quarter. Julius Jones ran all over the Giants for 149 yards, while Jason Witten caught 8 passes for 77 yards and a touchdown from Vinny Testaverde.
However, the Cowboys could not hold the lead, giving up three fourth-quarter touchdowns in a 28-24 loss. Dallas finished the season with a 6-10 record.
Somehow think that Ware has not yet had a relatively long career? Here were the defensive starters during that season finale:
LE Greg Ellis
LDT Leonardo Carson
RDT La’Roi Glover
RE Marcellus Wiley
LLB Al Singleton
MLB Dat Nguyen
RLB Dexter Coakley
LCB Terence Newman
RCB Lance Frazier
SS Lynn Scott
FS Roy Williams
Newman was in his second season. He and Kenyon Coleman are the only defensive players from 2004 who are still active in 2013.
This post comes a day late after the Cowboys beat the Washington Redskins 31-16 on Sunday night. The win gave the Cowboys a 3-3 record and a tie for the lead in the NFC East.
Tony Romo did not win (or lose) this game. Nor did DeMarcus Ware, Jason Witten, DeMarco Murray, Dez Bryant, Miles Austin, or even Sean Lee.
Instead, players coming up with big plays included the likes of Kyle Wilber and Cole Beasley. And the player with the biggest plays was returner Dwayne Harris.
Harris returned a punt 86 yards in the second quarter to give Dallas a 14-3 lead. He also returned a kickoff 90 yards in the third quarter to set up a touchdown pass from Romo to Terrance Williams.
Harris’ 222 combined return yards are the fourth most in team history behind Mel Renfro (273 vs. Green Bay in 1964); Felix Jones (247 vs. Philadelphia in 2008); and Reggie Swinton (224 vs. Denver in 2002).
The Redskins held Bryant to 5 receptions for 36 yards, and Austin did not catch a pass. However, Williams scored a big touchdown, and Beasley had 4 receptions for 44 yards. Three of those receptions came on a fourth-quarter drive that ended with a Dallas field goal.
The Cowboys were without Ware for much of the game due to a quad injury, but Wilber and George Selive were able to come up with a huge sack that caused a fumble in the fourth quarter. Wilbur recovered the fumble inside the Washington 5.
Following the recovery, Joseph Randle, who will likely start with Murray out due to injury, scored from 1 yard out to close out the scoring.
The defense gave up 433 yards but managed to record two key turnovers.
It is the third time this season that the Cowboys have held their opponents to less than 20 points. However, in three other games, opponents have scored 30 or more.
Four of the next five games for the Cowboys are on the road, so this win was absolutely necessary.
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.
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?
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.
Here we go:
The Cowboys have scored 48 or more points in 12 games in franchise history. Five of those games took place during the 1960s, three in the early 1970s, and two during the 1980 season alone. The Cowboys had not scored 48 points since October 22, 2000, when Dallas beat Arizona 48-7.
The Cowboys’ record in games in which they have scored 48 or more points is now 11-1.
In fact, the no game in which the Cowboys have scored 48 had ever been close until Sunday’s loss to the Broncos.
Here is a list:
* * *
This is the third time the Cowboys have give up 51 or more points. The previous two games took place in 1970 (54-13 loss to Minnesota) and 1962 (52-20 loss to the St. Louis Cardinals).
* * *
The Cowboys have committed turnovers in the fourth quarter of each of their losses in 2013.
In 2012, the Cowboys committed at least one fourth-quarter turnover in four games and went 1-3 in those games.
In 2011, the Cowboys committed at least one fourth-quarter turnover in three games and went 0-3 in those games.
In 2010, the Cowboys committed at least one fourth-quarter turnover in ten games and went 1-9 in those games.
* * *
The Cowboys have missed the playoffs in three consecutive seasons. Making the playoffs after a 2-3 start is a bit of a long-shot historically.
Incidentally, the team’s three-year playoff drought is tied for the third-longest in franchise history. If the team misses the playoffs again, the streak will be longer than the one when quarterbacks included the likes of Quincy Carter, Anthony Wright, Clint Stoerner, Ryan Leaf, and so forth.
* * *
Tony Romo now has the franchise record with 506 passing yards in a game. It broke Don Meredith’s mark of 460 yards set against San Francisco in 1963.
Dallas quarterbacks have thrown for 400 or more yards on eight different occasions. Romo was the quarterback in five of those games.
* * *
The Cowboys record in games in which a quarterback has thrown for 400 or more yards: 1-7.
The only Dallas QB to win a game while throwing for 400 or more yards is Meredith, who threw for 406 in a 31-30 win over Washington in 1966.
* * *
Romo’s passer rating of 140.0 was the eighth-highest of his career. His best rating in a single game was 150.5 in a 38-33 win over Philadelphia in 2012.
The Cowboys’ record in games where the Romo’s QB rating was 140.0 or better: 6-2.
* * *
The Cowboys have given up 500 or more yards in a game 17 times since 1960.
Two of those games came in losses to San Diego and Denver.
In team history, the Cowboys have gone 3-14 in games in which their defense has given up 500 or more yards.
On the other hand, the Cowboys are now 15-5 in games in which their offense has gained 500 or more yards.
* * *
Sunday’s game against Denver was not the first time in which both the Cowboys and their opponent have gained 500 or more yards.
In the season-opener in 1999, the Cowboys gained 541 yards, while the Redskins gained 504, in a 41-35 Dallas win.
At one time, Tony Romo gave the Dallas Cowboys their best hope to make a Super Bowl run in several years.
He almost led the team to a playoff win in 2006. He almost led the team to the NFC Championship Game in 2007 and 2009.
He almost led the team back to the playoffs in 2011. He almost led the team back to the playoffs in 2012.
In the season finale in 2012, his Cowboys were down 21-10, but Romo started to lead a comeback. And the comeback almost happened. Romo threw a touchdown pass and a two-point conversion, giving the Cowboys a chance.
When the Cowboys got the ball back down 21-18, it was time for Romo to do better than almost. He instead threw an awkward pass that was picked off by linebacker Rob Jackson.
If it isn’t Romo making some key mistake, it is the defense falling apart at the wrong time. In the loss to the Redskins last December, the defense could have forced a field goal and given the Cowboys hope.
Instead, Washington burned more than four minutes off the clock and secured the win with a touchdown.
What does this have to do with a thrilling, 51-48 loss to the Broncos on Sunday?
Well, the Cowboys almost pulled off one of the most exciting wins in recent memory. The Cowboys almost pulled off one of the biggest upsets in the NFL this season.
The reason we are using the adverb almost is not entirely one person’s fault. Romo became the first Cowboy to throw for more than 500 yards in a game, and his five touchdown passes were critical in the Cowboys having a 48-41 lead.
It was not entirely the defense’s fault, even though the defense had trouble slowing down Denver’s offense. The defense did force two turnovers that led to 15 Dallas points.
The Cowboys took a 48-41 lead with 7:19 remaining. The Broncos took over at the Denver 27. Theoretically, at least, the Cowboys defense could have forced a stop.
That was not going to happen. The Cowboys could not even force a third down play, as the Broncos went 73 yards in 9 plays to tie the game at 48.
The Cowboys took over at their own 20.
On first down, Romo suffered a sack and lost six yards.
On second down, he felt pressure and stepped up into the pocket. Although he could have dumped the ball off to DeMarco Murray, he tried to force the ball to Gavin Escobar.
Danny Trevathan stepped in front of the pass and picked it off. Eight plays later, Matt Prater kicked a chip-shot field goal to give the Broncos the win.
The ruined a breakout game of sorts for young receiver Terrance Williams, who had 151 receiving yards, including an 82-yard touchdown.
Williams’ touchdown helped to spark the Cowboys when the team was down 35-20 in the third quarter. Until that play happened, the Broncos had outscored the Cowboys 28-3 between the second and third quarters.
Denver picked on embattled cornerback Morris Claiborne, but Claiborne was able to record the first interception of Peyton Manning this season. Claiborne also recovered a fumble in the first quarter.
The defensive line featured some players few of us know. David Carter? Drake Nevis? Caesar Rayford?
The nickname Doomsday Defense does not come to mind.
Sean Lee and Barry Church were always around the football, but the defense did not have answers. The Cowboys have given up 2,046 yards in five games, or an average of 409.2 yards per game.
Remember the 2010 Cowboys, who gave up a record 436 points in a 6-10 season? That team only gave up 351.8 yards per game.
Dallas is now tied in the NFC East with Philadelphia with a 2-3 record. The Cowboys play Washington next Sunday night.
Here is today’s Friday Photo Trivia question:
Seven different players had at least one rushing attempt when the Dallas Cowboys beat the Denver Broncos in Super Bowl XII.
Tony Dorsett led the Cowboys in rushing with 66 yards on 15 carries.
The player in the picture below was second on the team in rushing with 55 yards on 14 carries.
The trivia question: did the player in the picture score a rushing touchdown?
provided by flash-gear.com
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.
The Cowboys are 2-2 for the third consecutive year. The team is 18-18 since the start of the 2011 season. Heck, the team is 130-130 since the 1997 season.
If everything in the NFL, and especially the NFC East, remains the same for the rest of the season, the Cowboys could make the playoffs even with an 8-8 record.
In fact, if the regular season ended today, the Cowboys would host a playoff game as the NFC East Champions. The team would play the Chicago Bears, who are currently 3-1.
* * *
As for individual players, Tony Romo is on pace to 4,060 yards, which would mark the fourth season during the past five years where Romo would surpass the 4,000-yard mark.
Romo is also on pace to throw 32 touchdown passes with only 4 interceptions. (And the team will only finish with an 8-8 record?) Romo’s interception rate of 0.7% is lower than his total for any previous season. He also has a completion percentage of 72.4%.
* * *
DeMarco Murray is on pace to rush for 1,424 yards. That would rank as the eighth-highest total in team history. It would also mark the first time since 2006 that a Dallas back has surpassed the 1,000-yard mark.
* * *
Dez Bryant is on pace to catch 16 touchdown passes, which would break Terrell Owens’ record of 15 set in 2007. Bryant is on pace to have 1,128 receiving yards.
* * *
Sean Lee now has eight career interceptions and two returns for touchdowns. He is clearly one of the biggest playmakers on the current team.
How does this total rank among other linebackers in team history?
Below is a list showing linebackers with at least 7 career interceptions.
Note that Lee is only on in his fourth season. By Jordan’s fourth season in 1966, he had only 5 career interceptions with 1 touchdown. Howley also had more interceptions later in his career and had only 8 picks during the first 6 years of his career, including 2 years in Chicago.
Philip Rivers dropped back to pass with the San Diego Chargers trailing the Dallas Cowboys by a score of 14-10.
Rivers tried to get the ball to Antonio Gates, but Jason Hatcher got to Rivers and caused the quarterback’s pass to pop up in the air.
Middle linebacker Sean Lee intercepted the pass and raced down the right sideline for a 52-yard touchdown.
Dallas 21, San Diego 10.
The Cowboys then packed their bags and headed to the locker room. Perhaps they would shower and get ready to answer questions about their second consecutive win. Or maybe…
Well, maybe they might realize at some point that 73 seconds remained in the first half. That realization might have helped the Cowboys, because the team effectively stopped playing for those 73 seconds as well as the final 30 minutes of the second half.
From that point on, Rivers completed 21 of 23 passes and finished with 401 passing yards. The Chargers scored the last 20 points of the game to beat the Cowboys 30-21, dropping the Cowboys to 2-2 for the third consecutive season.
Need a reminder that the last two 2-2 starts ended up leading to 8-8 finishes? Nah.
Tony Romo did not look awful, completing 27 of 37 passes for 244 yards with 2 TDs to Dez Bryant.
Terrence Williams’ final stat totals were not bad as he started in place of Miles Austin. However, he botched an opportunity to keep the game close.
With less than three minutes remaining and Dallas trying to score from the San Diego 7, Romo hit Williams over the middle. Williams tried to reach for the goalline, but when he extended his arm, a San Diego defender knocked the ball out. The Chargers recovered and were able to kill most of the rest of the clock.
The loss was not Williams’ fault, though. This was just another team loss by a mediocre team that cannot find consistency when it needs it.
This team may have the talent to have a 4-0 record, but this team has no idea how to win games on a regular basis. Sean Lee can look like a beast, but that doesn’t mean the team has any idea how to cover Antonio Gates (10 receptions, 136 yards, 1 TD).
Bryant may look unstoppable, but having Bryant does not improve the Cowboys’ statistic of going 3 of 9 on third-down conversions.
Perhaps the Cowboys come out of nowhere and beat the undefeated Broncos next week.
It’s possible, but there is also a good chance the Cowboys would follow up the win by blowing their game against the Redskins during the following week.