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Dallas 27, Minnesota 23: Scoffing at Win-Probability Analysis

The Dallas Cowboys appeared to do everything they needed to do on Sunday to lose a game to the 1-6 Minnesota Vikings. A loss would have been very difficult for the team to overcome, both in the standings and in terms of rebounding emotionally.


Dwayne Harris dove into the end zone with less than a minute remaining to give the Cowboys a 27-23 win over Minnesota on Sunday.

The Vikings had an 89% chance of winning the game with 4:21 remaining. Minnesota led 23-20 and had just picked off Tony Romo in Dallas territory. Minnesota needed less than 10 yards to get into field-goal range.

The Dallas defense that could not stop Adrian Peterson on Minnesota’s previous drive, which resulted in the go-ahead touchdown, held tight. The Vikings punted the ball to Dallas with 2:44 remaining and pinned the Cowboys at their own 10.

The Cowboys needed Romo to play the role of hero, driving the team 90 yards for the game-winning score. He did just that.

Dallas receivers had problems with drops all game  but did not during this drive. He threw passes to Jason Witten, Cole Beasley, and Dwayne Harris. With 1:30 remaining and the Cowboys holding the ball at their own 45, Romo hit Dez Bryant across the middle, and Bryant was able to weave his way through the Viking secondary for a 34-yard gain.

Romo completed two more passes to get the ball down to the Minnesota 7. With 42 seconds left, Romo threw the ball underneath to Harris, who dove into the end zone to give Dallas the lead. The Vikings’ last ditch effort to come back failed, giving Dallas the 27-23 win.

Bryant put the Cowboys in position to win the game, but this will not be a game for him to remember fondly. He dropped a couple of passes that would have put the Cowboys in position to score touchdowns.

Bryant later lost his cool, possibly costing the Cowboys a chance at a field goal late in the third quarter. With Dallas leading 20-17, the Cowboys moved the ball to the Minnesota 29. However, Lance Dunbar lost five yards on a run, setting up a 3rd-and-15 play. Romo tried to get the ball to Bryant, who was called for offensive pass interference. He argued with the referees and removed his helmet in the process, drawing a 15-yard penalty. It forced the Cowboys to punt.

Jason Witten had his best game of the season, catching 8 passes for 102 yards and a touchdown. His score came early in the third quarter and gave Dallas a 13-10 lead.

Seconds later, George Selvie stripped the ball from Christian Ponder in the end zone, and Nike Hayden recovered in the end zone to increase the Dallas lead to 20-10.

However, just when it appeared that the Cowboys would run away with the game, the Minnesota offense rebounded, marching 77 yards in just over 3 minutes to cut the Dallas lead to 20-17.

The first half is hardly worth mentioning. The Cowboys played as if they were hung over from last week’s loss to Detroit. A touchdown run by Ponder gave the Vikings a 10-6 halftime lead.

The win allowed Dallas to remain in first place in the NFC East. The Eagles improved to 4-5 with a 49-20 win over Oakland, while the Redskins (now 3-5) beat the Chargers in overtime, 30-24.

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Most Obscure Player of 1991: Donald Smith



I was very tempted to name Danny Noonan as the Most Obscure Player of 1991. It isn’t everyday that a first-round draft pick of the Dallas Cowboys is not as widely remembered as Danny Noonan the caddie from Caddyshack. Shout “Noonan!” and more people will probably remember the Danny who hit a 20-foot putt to help Ty Webb (and an “injured” Al Czervik) beat Judge Elihu Smails and Dr. Beeper than the Danny who was a first-round pick out of Nebraska in 1987.

But alas, I don’t think Danny Noonan the defensive tackle is really an obscure player, as much as I would like to insert the reference to Caddyshack.

The Most Obscure Player of 1991: Donald Smith.

The Most Obscure Player of 1991: Donald Smith.

Instead, I’m going with a defensive back that only those with the most bizarre memories will remember.

The Minnesota Vikings drafted defensive back Donald Smith in the 10th round of the 1990 draft. He never played a down there.

Dallas picked him up at some point during the 1991 season. He played in three games but was released in October. He did not record any sort of a statistic other than games played.

Some players in this type of circumstance might have spent a year or two in Europe (if anywhere), but Smith wound up doing quite well in Canada.

He played for the Winnipeg Blue Bombers, Memphis Mad Dogs, Toronto Argonauts, and Hamilton Tiger-Cats from 1992 to 2000. During his playing days in the CFL, he was a divisional CFL All-Star four times. He also won two Grey Cup Championships with the Argos in 1996 and 1997.

And now he has a MOP Award to add to his collection. Congrats.

So in conclusion, we end with these immortal words: “Danny, I’m going to give you a little advice. There’s a force in the universe that makes things happen; all you have to do is get in touch with it. Stop thinking…let things happen…and be…the ball.”




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Most Obscure Player of 1985: David Ponder



Did You Know…

The Most Obscure Player of 1985: Defensive tackle David Ponder (shown here as #85 for Florida State).

The Most Obscure Player of 1985: Defensive tackle David Ponder (shown here as #85 for Florida State).

That Minnesota Vikings quarterback Christian Ponder’s father played for the Dallas Cowboys?

I didn’t, so on the day after Father’s Day, David Ponder is our Most Obscure Player of 1985.

David Ponder was a defensive tackle who played at Florida State from 1980 to 1983.  He was not drafted in 1985 and signed a free agent contract with the Cowboys.

Ponder played in only four games with the Cowboys. One of those was the 44-14 win over the Washington Redskins during the famous “Happy Birthday, Joe Theismann” game to open the season. Ponder recorded a half-sack during that game, and this was his only official statistic as a professional.

He apparently remained in the Dallas area, as Christian was born in Dallas and raised in Grapevine. Christian later played at Florida State before being drafted in 2011.

* * *

Here is a story about Christian Ponder signing with FSU in 2005. It mentions David Ponder’s all-important contributions to his college fraternity.

Florida State’s decision is very good news for Pi Kappa Alpha. David Ponder was not only a great player for the Seminoles, he was also a popular leader and Brother of Delta Lambda Chapter. David was an active member of the Pike rush committee, and won the FSU Intramural All-Greek Heavyweight Wrestling Championship for the Pikes. In 1984, David received the coveted Ken Spence Award honoring the varsity athlete who best exemplifies the qualities of loyalty and devotion to Pi Kappa Alpha.

* * *

Another point of obscurity: Ponder was one of two players who first wore a jersey number in the 90s. Ponder wore #97, while Kevin Brooks wore #99.

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Dallas Cowboys Draft CB Morris Claiborne with the #6 Pick

A few have suggested that the Dallas Cowboys might move up in the 2012 Draft, but almost nobody counted on what happened.

NEW YORK, NY - APRIL 26:  Morris Claiborne (R)...

NEW YORK, NY - APRIL 26: Morris Claiborne (R)from LSU holds up a jersey as he stands on stage after he was selected #6 overall by the Dallas Cowboys in the first round of during the 2012 NFL Draft at Radio City Music Hall on April 26, 2012 in New York City. (Image credit: Getty Images via @daylife)

Several thought that Alabama safety Mark Barron would be gone by the #14 pick, so the draft gurus started saying that Dallas would take a defensive tackle. One name thrown out there was LSU DT Michael Brockers.

Right team, wrong player.

Jerry Jones and team sent their #14 pick and their #45 pick in the second round to St. Louis to acquire LSU cornerback Morris Claiborne. He was the highest-rated corner in the draft and joins a secondary that features another former first-round pick in Mike Jenkins.

Claiborne is a former receiver, and his ball and cover skills have been rated as “exceptional.” He missed only one game in the past two years. He won the Thorpe Award as the nation’s best defensive back and helped to lead LSU to an SEC title. Some had Claiborne going as high as #3 to the Minnesota Vikings.

He joins Jenkins, Brandon Carr, and Orlando Scandrick. Given that Dallas gave Carr more than $50 million and given that the team signed Scandrick a long-term deal last year, they are not going anywhere. However, Jenkins has not evolved as hoped since his solid 2009 season, and he has battled injuries. The Cowboys might try to add more picks by trading Jenkins.

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Minnesota 34, Dallas 3: A Sickening End to a Great Year

After a season with ups and downs in terms of my own predictions, I guessed that the Cowboys would win their playoff game against the Vikings in overtime. One hero in this fantasy scenario: kicker Shaun Suisham.

Okay, then.  Suisham ensured that the Cowboys will look for a new kicker by missing two field goals, including one that would have given the Cowboys a 3-0 lead with six minutes left in the first quarter. Granted, that would not have helped the final score, but Dallas lost momentum as a result of that play, and the Vikings took a 7-0 lead less than two minutes later.

The other would-be hero in a Dallas win would have been Tony Romo. Instead, Romo spent much of the day running for his life. Marc Columbo had no answer for left defensive end Ray Edwards. But just as soon as one started wishing that Doug Free would come in the game, it happened—except that Free had to replace left tackle Flozell Adams, who went down with a calf injury. Free looked like an inexperienced player getting owned by a veteran (Jarad Allen), which is exactly what happened.

Romo fumbled three times and lost two. The second lost fumble occurred two plays after the Cowboys had given up a second Brett-Favre-to-Syndey-Rice touchdown that imcreased the Minnesota lead to 14-3. When Allen stripped Romo of the ball and Ben Leber recovered, the Vikings had the ball at the Dallas 20.

The defense managed to hold the Vikings to a field goal. And though the secondary is going to be subject to criticism for its failure to stop Rice most of the game, the defense at least left a glimmer of hope that the Cowboys could make a game of it. Between the 3:49 mark of the second quarter and the 14:26 mark of the fourth quarter, the Vikings didn’t score.

The problem was that the Dallas offense could barely move an inch during that time (or afterward, for that matter).  The only serious Dallas drive in the second half took place early in the third quarter. Three runs generated 34 yards and moved the ball to the Minnesota 23. Then Jason Garrett called a pitch to an ineffective Marion Barber, who could not get around Edwards, and Barber lost seven yards. Dallas could not make up for the loss, and Suisham missed a 49-yarder that would have cut the Minnesota lead to 17-6.

The fourth quarter wasn’t worth watching for the Cowboys. Favre hit Rice one more time to increase the Viking lead to 27-3. With two minutes left, Minnesota chose to run the score up when Favre hit tight end Visanthe Shiancoe on an 11-yard touchdown on a 4th-and-4 play.

Jason Witten (10 rec., 98 yds.) and Felix Jones (14 att., 69 yds.) had respectable games, but the Cowboys could not maintain drives. Miles Austin only managed four receptions for 34 yards.

As for Williams,  a guy named Kevin Williams showed up on the stat sheet. So did a safety named Madieu Williams. That receiver named Roy Williams? He was targeted one time and did not manage a catch.

* * *

The Cowboy bashing has already begun, with plenty of folks calling for Wade Phillips and Jason Garrett to get fired. Frankly, though, if you told me in August that this team would find a way to win five straight near the end of the year and win a playoff game, I would have taken it in a heartbeat even if I also knew that the Cowboys would tank their final game. Moreover, even if Dallas had won today (which I honestly believed would happen), New Orleans would be the last place I would want this team to play. Dallas certainly pulled out a big win there in December, but it’s hard to forget that the Saints nearly erased a 24-3 Dallas lead before DeMarcus Ware saved the day.

So anyway, four years of blogging have ended in “The Botch” against Seattle in 2006, “The Stutter” against the Giants in 2007, “An Ignominious End” in a loss to Eagles in 2008, and the loss today. I know others are angry about this loss, but at the least, there are plenty of reasons to believe that this team started to turn a corner this year and will continue that trend next year.

As the Cowboys Waited to Play the Vikings (1971)

Roger Staubach and Tom Landry look over Metropolitan Stadium on the day before the Cowboys faced the Vikings in the 1971 divisional playoffs.

When the 1971 Cowboys prepared to meet the Vikings in the divisional round of the playoffs, one big concern was the weather at the old Metropolitan Stadium in Bloomington. In the picture above, head coach Tom Landry and quarterback Roger Staubach looked over the field on the day before the game. The picture below is even more unusual, for it appears that Bob Hayes might not have seen snow in his life.

Mel Renfro and Bob Hayes are fascinated with white stuff called snow.

It turns out that the snow had little to do with the Cowboys 20-12 win over the Vikings. From the Sports Illustrated Vault:

Five times on the unseasonably warm afternoon the cold Vikings made a gift of the ball to Dallas, and the Cowboys turned three of these presents—a fumble and two pass interceptions—into two field goals and a touchdown. Late in the third period, on their only prolonged drive, an eight-play, 52-yard march, the Cowboys added another touchdown, their final score in a 20-12 win.

* * *

The 2009 Cowboys have a few things in common with the Cowboys of the early 1970s. As the Cowboys prepared to face the Vikings on Christmas Day in 1971, Bob St. John of the Dallas Morning News wrote an article entitled “No Team Like the Present.” See if this sounds a little bit applicable to the Cowboys of the present:

Since 1966, the Dallas Cowboys have gone into the NFL playoffs in most every way known to man. They have been a young, enthusiastic team… a confident veteran team… a psychologically burdened team… and a team that scrapped for everything it got.

And they have been a team that you could never underrate and a team you could never overrate.

* * *

As for the 1975 Hail Mary game, it is being replayed on NFL Network at 9:30 a.m. (CST) on Thursday. For more about the Hail Mary Game, check out the Web special at the Dallas Morning News site.

’75 Playoff Win Was Most Improbable

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This post is part of the 50 Seasons in 50 Weeks Series.

The Cowboys played the Minnesota Vikings tough during the 1975 divisional playoffs. Dallas led 10-7 midway through the fourth quarter, but the Vikings began to drive the ball. With 5:11 left in the game, running back Brent McClanahan bowled off left tackle to score a touchdown from one-yard out, giving the Vikings a 14-10 lead.

The Cowboys’ next drive was ugly. They began on the their own 26, but a sack and a penalty for delay of game backed the team up. Facing a 3rd-and-18, John Fitzgerald snapped the ball low (for a second time on the drive), and Staubach had to try to scramble. Dallas had to punt, giving the Vikings a chance to ice the game.

Minnesota faced a 3rd and 2 from the Dallas 47 with just over two minutes left. Fran Tarkenton rolled left on a run-pass option. It looked for a second as of Tarkenton may have a hole, but Charlie Waters grabbed Tarkenton’s jersey and pulled Tarkenton down at midfield. Minnesota had to punt at the two-minute warning.

Golden Richards took the punt at the Dallas 15 with 1:51 left. Dallas had to drive 85 yards for a touchdown to win. On first down, Staubach hit Drew Pearson for a nine-yard gain. It was Pearson’s first catch of the game. On the next play, Staubach missed a pass to Golden Richards, setting up a third down and short.

Fitzgerald’s snap was low, but Staubach fielded it. Carl Eller nearly trapped Staubach, but Roger found a way to roll to his left. He hit Pearson at the 31 to keep the drive alive.

On first down, Fitzgerald once again snapped the ball low. Staubach had to fall on the ball for a seven-yard loss, leading Staubach to pound the ball into the ground. On second down, with just under a minute left, Staubach threw the ball away after being hit by Alan Page. On third down, Staubach could not find anyone open and tried to loft a pass to Jean Fugett. The pass was incomplete, leading to a 4th-and-17 play.

Rookie Kyle Davis replaced Fitzgerald at center. Staubach took the snap on the fourth-down play with 44 seconds left. Staubach launched a ball towards the sideline in the direction of Pearson, who caught the ball but was shoved out of bounds. The referee immediately ruled that Pearson would have come down in bounds but for Nate Wright hitting Pearson in the back. 25 yards on the play, and the Cowboys had new life with 37 seconds left.

On first down, Preston Pearson dropped a ball in the flat, stopping the clock. On second down, Staubach and Pearson made history:

Here is what the announcers Gary Bender and John Unitas said as the play was happening:

Bender: So now we go to a second and 10. 32 seconds left.

[Staubach launches the ball]

Bender: He is going for broke…Drew Pearson…He got it! Touchdown!

[Pearson throws the ball into the stands]

Bender: I didn’t know he had it for a while. [inaudible] I don’t believe it!

Bender: [Describes Pearson throwing the ball over the scoreboard]

Unitas: I don’t believe it. The ball was thrown short, and the defender was not watching as Pearson came back to make the catch.

Bender: He caught that ball on his hip.

Unitas: [inaudible] It was a much better catch than it was a throw.

With the improbable win, the Cowboys were scheduled to travel to Los Angeles to face the Rams.

More References

Box Score

Dallas Morning News Coverage

Cowboy Defense Dominates the ’71 Playoffs

85346332.jpgTom Landry came to the Dallas Cowboys as a defensive genius, and it was his defense that led the team to the top of the mountain in 1971. In two NFC playoff games in 1971, the Doomsday Defense caused a total of eight turnovers, helping the Cowboys to earn a trip to Super Bowl VI.

In three games overall, the Cowboys only allowed one touchdown. And that one touchdown came late in the divisional round matchup with the Minnesota Vikings. In three playoff games, including Super Bowl VI, the Cowboys gave up a total of 18 points.

Here is a look at the two NFC playoff games.

Divisional Round, December 25, 1971: Dallas 20, Minnesota 12

U1725566.jpgThe temperature of the Dallas-Minnesota game was supposed to be around 10 degrees, bringing back memories of the Ice Bowl of 1967 (thus, the picture above of Mel Renfro and Bob Hayes). Instead, the game held on Christmas Day of 1971 was played when the temperature was a more balmy 30 degrees.

The Dallas offense managed only 183 total yards, but the offense did enough. The defense forced five Viking turnovers, including four interceptions. Dallas scored on a touchdown run by Duane Thomas and a touchdown pass from Roger Staubach to Bob Hayes. The two touchdown broke open a 6-3 game in the third quarter. The Vikings managed a safety and a late touchdown, but the outcome was not in doubt at that point.

Tom Landry:

Our defense was super. It was the best defense we’ve
played all year. The statistics may not be real impressive but we got
ahead (20-3) and laid back a little and let them have the turn-ins and
stuff like that.

Box Score

DMN Summary

1971 NFC Championship Game, January 2, 1972: Dallas 14, San Francisco 3

85351542.jpgThe Cowboys gained 172 yards on the ground on 46 carries, and the defense was again impressive, as Dallas beat San Francisco for the second consecutive season in the NFC championship game. The Dallas Morning News described the game as “a day at the office.”

Roger Staubach only had 103 yards passing, but he led the team with 55 rushing yards.  Calvin Hill and  Duane Thomas scored the two touchdowns, which were all the Cowboys needed. The defense held the 49ers to 239 yards of offense and forced three San Francisco turnovers.

With the win, the Cowboys were set to take on the Miami Dolphins in the Super Bowl. Regarding the game, Bob St. John wrote:

This time the Super Bowl, what the NFL is all about these days, means
the Cowboys against the Miami Dolphins, a newcomer. These are the NFL’s
two glamour teams this season and it seems a fitting match.

Box Score

DMN Summary