Loss to Panthers in 1996 Started the Mediocrity

Troy Aikman’s didn’t bring his playoff magic with him when the Cowboys lost to the Carolina Panthers in the 1996 playoffs.

Between 1960 and 1996, the Cowboys were seldom mediocre. The team had its ups and downs, but by 1996, the Cowboys had turned their fortunes around after two very bad years to end the 1980s.

Between 1991 and 1996, Dallas went 70-26 with a playoff record of 12-3. Everyone knows that three of those seasons ended in Super Bowl titles.

One of those three playoff losses, though, came against a team that did not play a single game until 1995. Of all teams to end a dynasty, it couldn’t be an expansion team in its second year.

But that’s what happened.

Nobody who even barely followed the Cowboys in 1996 can forget the many scandals. Michael Irvin missed five games because of drug charges, and it appeared as if he and offensive tackle Erik Williams were going to face even more severe problems when a woman accused them of raping her.

The charges didn’t stand, but the loss did. Once the Cowboys lost Irvin to a shoulder injury, the team was just never quite in the game. Meanwhile, Dallas could not stop the great Anthony Johnson, who ran for 104 yards on 26 carries.

(What do you mean you don’t remember Anthony Johnson? The Notre Dame fullback? Emerged from nowhere in 1996 before returning to obscurity after that?)

From Sports Illustrated:

The Carolina Panthers not only beat the scandal-scarred Super Bowl champion Cowboys on offense, defense and special teams at Ericsson Stadium, but they also showed more poise. However, the most stunning thing about Carolina’s 26-17 win in this NFC divisional playoff game was that it wasn’t so stunning. Dallas’s run for a fourth Super Bowl victory in five years ended in part because of drug suspensions and injuries but mostly because the Panthers were the setter team. Running back Anthony Johnson carried Carolina in crunch time when Smith couldn’t carry Dallas. Panther Kerry Collins was a better quarterback than Troy Aikman, who threw interceptions to kill the Cowboys’ last two drives. With a complex blitz package and a secondary that played tighter coverage than Dallas ever anticipated, the Carolina defense frustrated the Cowboys for the better part of 60 minutes.

Anyway, the franchise that was seldom mediocre has been anything but since then. Between 1997 and 2012, here are the numbers:

* Regular season record: 122-123

* Playoff record: 1-6

* One of those six teams: Carolina in 2003

I’ve heard someone try to argue that Carolina has “owned” the Cowboys, but that is certainly not true. While Dallas has fallen to the Panthers in two playoff games, Dallas has an overall record of 8-3 against Carolina, including wins in the last four.

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Dallas Cowboys: Their Last 10 Games

ARLINGTON, TX - NOVEMBER 24:  Dallas Cowboys o...

Jerry likes what he sees from a team that has gone 3-7 in their last 10 games. Hopefully the Cowboys can keep Tampa Bay on the schedule.

The Cowboys had their typical December collapse in 2011 after posting a 7-4 record after a Thanksgiving Day win over the Miami Dolphins. Although Dallas picked up the victory on Thanksgiving, some problems that occurred in that game have shown up a number of times since then.

Dallas had 11 penalties for 59 yards and lost the turnover battle thanks to two interceptions. The Cowboys narrowly won thanks to a field goal by Dan Bailey.

Since that game, the Cowboys have played ten more regular season games. Their record is 3-7, and two of those wins came over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, who suffered through a ten-game losing streak to end the 2011 campaign.

A few disconcerting numbers about the Cowboys in their last ten games:

  • Dallas has been called for 102 penalties for 535 yards. Many of these penalties have caused drives to stall because they are often called on offensive linemen for false starts and holding penalties.
  • Opponents’ penalties during that ten-game span: 59 for 448 yards.
  • The Cowboys have committed 16 turnovers in the last ten games. This includes 10 interceptions.
  • The Cowboys have caused 7 turnovers during that span, giving the Cowboys a turnover differential of -9 in the past ten games.

Compare the Cowboys’ turnover differential with numbers from the New York Giants. New York finished the 2011 season by going 6-0, including the playoffs. During that time, the Giants recorded 12 turnovers and only gave up 2. That’s a differential of +10.

The Giants haven’t been quite a strong in 2012, but they are still 4-2. They have recorded 14 turnovers and have given up 7 for a differential of +7.

Therefore…

Giants in their last 12 games: 10-2, with a turnover differential of +17. Super Bowl title.

Cowboys in their last 10 games: 3-7, with a turnover differential of -9. Demented owner thinks team can vie for the Super Bowl title.

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