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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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A Complete History of Win One, Lose One

I noted on Tuesday that the Cowboys had opened their season with a win followed by a loss five times since 1997. In each of those seasons, the Cowboys won their third game.

win-someIn team history, the Cowboys started with a win followed by a loss 11 times. During those seasons, the Cowboys have an overall 8-3 record during their their third game.

Here is a complete list:

1974: Beat Atlanta, lost to Philadelphia, lost to N.Y. Giants

1980: Beat Washington, lost to Denver, beat Tampa Bay

1984: Beat L.A. Rams, lost to N.Y. Giants, beat Philadelphia

1985: Beat Washington, lost to Detroit, beat Cleveland

1990: Beat San Diego, lost to N.Y. Giants, lost to Washington

1991: Beat Cleveland, lost to Washington, lost to Philadelphia

1997: Beat Pittsburgh, lost to Arizona, beat Philadelphia.

1998: Beat Arizona, lost to Denver, beat N.Y. Giants.

2005: Beat San Diego, lost to Washington, beat San Francisco.

2009: Beat Tampa Bay, lost to N.Y. Giants, beat Carolina.

2012: Beat N.Y. Giants, lost to Seattle, beat Tampa Bay.

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Simulation Review: Cowboys Are Favored by a Touchdown

Most simulations have the Cowboys winning by about a touchdown, or perhaps more.

It’s been a long nine days since the Cowboys ruined our Thanksgiving. Dallas returns to the field tomorrow night to face the Philadelphia Eagles, who have not won since September.

The simulations do not think the game will be close. Notwithstanding the Thanksgiving performance, the sims have the Cowboys winning by about a touchdown. In some cases, the spread is more.

AccuScore: Dallas 30, Philadelphia 18
TeamRankings: Dallas 25, Philadelphia 17
NumberFire: Dallas 27, Philadelphia 18
WhatIfSports: Dallas 25, Philadelphia 19
Madden: Dallas 27, Philadelphia 13

The story of the Madden sim:

Remember when all the Eagles talk revolved around the words “Dream Team” and “Dynasty”? Talk about a team that couldn’t walk the walk. Philadelphia loses another one this week, scoring only 13 points against the rival Cowboys, while never really being able to get on track on either side of the ball. Tony Romo stars for Dallas in the win, throwing for 283 yards and two touchdowns in the 27-13 victory.

* * *

The Saints’ loss to the Falcons helped the Cowboys’ playoff chances just a bit, but those chances are still rather poor. At 5-6, Dallas is a game out of the second wildcard position. The Cowboys also have the same record as Washington, which would win the head-to-head tiebreaker at this point. The teams involved:

Seattle (6-5): Beat Minnesota and Dallas and have a relatively easy schedule in December.

Tampa Bay (6-5): Beat Minnesota but lost to Dallas and Washington.

Minnesota (6-5): Lost to both Seattle, Tampa Bay, and Washington.

Washington (5-6): Has wins over Tampa Bay, Minnesota, and Dallas.

Dallas (5-6): Beat Tampa Bay but lost to Seattle and Washington. Any loss from this point out may all but kill the Cowboys’ chances.

New Orleans (5-7): Beat Tampa Bay but lost to Washington. Saints’ chances are nearly hopeless.

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An Unusual Year in the Cowboys-Eagles Series

The Cowboys and Eagles had losing records in both of their games in 1963, including this 27-20 Dallas win on November 17.

The Dallas Cowboys and Philadelphia Eagles have faced one another 107 times, including the playoffs, since 1960. The Cowboys lead the series 60-47.

The rivalry is not especially interesting this year. Dallas entered the first game at 3-5 and came away with the 38-23 win. The Eagles were also 3-5.

On Sunday, the Eagles are 3-8. The Cowboys are 5-6.

This marks the first time since 1963 that the teams will play each other twice when each team had a losing record. In fact, in the 52-year history of the rivalry, this has occurred only two times.

Below is a summary. The numbers in the parentheses indicate each team’s record entering into the game.

1962

Dallas (1-2-1) 41, Philadelphia (1-3) 19

Philadelphia (2-8-1) 28, Dallas (4-5-1) 14

1963

Philadelphia (0-2-1) 28, Dallas (0-3) 14

Dallas (2-7) 27, Philadelphia (2-6-1) 20

* * *

I posted this on Facebook yesterday:

The Cowboys are 5-6 for only the third time in team history if we disregard ties. In 1962, the Cowboys were 5-6-1 but finished at 5-8-1. Trivia: in what season other than 2012 did the Cowboys start 5-6, and what was the team’s final record that season?

The answer is 1987, which was the year of the replacement players. Just as they did in 2012, the Cowboys in 1987 hosted the Thanksgiving Day game at 5-5 and needed a win to stay alive in the playoff chase. Instead, the Vikings knocked off the Cowboys in overtime, and Dallas ended up missing the playoffs with a 7-8 record.

 

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Dallas 38, Philadelphia 23: It Must Be November

Felix Jones found the end zone for the third time in 2012.

Tony Romo has been the starting quarterback in Dallas during six of the last seven months of November (he was injured in 2010). Heading into Sunday’s game at Philadelphia, Romo had a record of 19-4 during those November games.

Romo played a good part of his 24th November game on his back, thanks to an offensive line that could not give Romo more than three seconds to get rid of the ball. The defense wasn’t helping, thanks to a number of penalties on third downs.

Nevertheless, the Cowboys knocked Michael Vick out the game and held a 10-7 lead at the half.

The Cowboys went three and out to open the second half, however, and rookie QB Nick Foles drove the Eagles into Dallas territory. On 1st and 20, Foles threw a pass into the end zone to a wide open Jeremy Maclin. The touchdown gave Philadelphia its first lead of the game.

The Cowboys went three and out again.

The Eagles drove down and added a field goal.

Philadelphia 17, Dallas 10, and it looked like the story for the game would be an obituary for the season.

With 2:14 left in the the third quarter, Dallas faced a 3rd and 5. Romo once again did not have time to throw the ball. However, he maneuvered in the pocket and bought enough time to find Miles Austin on a 25-yard reception. Three plays later, Romo hit Dez Bryant in the end zone on a deep post. Replay officials confirmed that the play was a touchdown.

No more obituary. From that point, the Cowboys took control.

Former Cowboy Mat McBriar punted with just under 14 minutes left in the game. Dwayne Harris headed towards the left sideline and found a lane. He raced 78 yards for a touchdown, giving the Cowboys the lead once again.

On the next Eagle drive, Brandon Carr picked off a pass that bounced off the foot of DeSean Jackson. Carr returned the pick for another score. Suddenly, it was Dallas 31, Philadelphia 17.

Philadelphia managed to score with just under two minutes left, but Alex Henery missed the extra point. The Eagles held the Cowboys and got the ball back at their own 11 with 53 seconds remaining.

But there was no magic finish for the Eagles. Anthony Spencer sacked Foles and stripped the ball. Jason Hatcher recovered the fumble in the end zone, giving Dallas its third touchdown on defense or special teams in the fourth quarter alone.

The game did not start out especially well for the Dallas defense. Two encroachment penalties gave the Eagles first downs, and Riley Cooper made a great catch in the end zone to give the Eagles a 7-0 lead.

The Cowboys came right back, though, driving 80 yards on 13 plays. Felix Jones took a short pass 11 yards for a touchdown to tie the game.

Both offenses struggled for much of the first half. Romo’s 49-yard pass to Dez Bryant with six minutes left in the second quarter helped to set up a field goal that gave the Cowboys their 10-7 halftime lead.

The Cowboys had good fortune earlier in the day as well. The Giants lost to the Bengals, giving New York a 6-4 record. If Dallas beat Cleveland next week, the Cowboys will be just one game out in the NFC East.

 

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Dallas Record After the Bye Week: 16-7

Please insert “window of opportunity” comment.

The Cowboys return to action next weekend with a 2-2 record. Nine teams in the NFC now have a better record, including every team in the NFC West.

Nevertheless, the Cowboys are usually pretty good after bye weeks. Since the league first started giving teams a week off in the middle of seasons in 1990, the Cowboys have  total record of 16-7 after bye weeks. This included five consecutive wins between 2005 and 2009.

The bad news is that the Cowboys have lost games after bye weeks during each of the last two seasons, and both losses were most frustrating. Two years ago, the Cowboys allowed a long kickoff return to the Titans late in the fourth quarter after Dallas had tied the game. Tennessee scored and won the game 34-27. Last year, Dallas held a fourth-quarter lead at New England only to let fans watch a patented let-down in a 20-16 loss.

In 2012, the Cowboys have to travel to Baltimore to face the Ravens, whom the Cowboys have never defeated. The last time Dallas faced Baltimore, the Cowboys added to their recent legacy of disgrace by blowing the final home game at Texas Stadium in 2008.

Here is a look at the games following bye weeks.

1990

Record before the bye: 6-7

Next game vs. Phoenix: W 41-10

1991

Record before the bye: 5-2

Next game vs. Detroit: L 34-10

1992

Record before the bye: 3-0

Next game vs. Philadelphia: L 31-7

1993 (first bye)

Record before the bye: 1-2

Next game vs. Green Bay: W 36-14

1993 (second bye)

Record before the bye: 4-2

Next game vs. Philadelphia: W 23-10

1994

Record before the bye: 2-1

Next game vs. Washington: W 34-7

1995

Record before the bye: 6-1

Next game vs. Atlanta: W 28-13

1996

Record before the bye: 2-3

Next game vs. Arizona: W 17-3

1997

Record before the bye: 2-1

Next game vs. Chicago: W 27-3

1998

Record before the bye: 4-3

Next game vs. Philadelphia: W 34-0

1999

Record before the bye: 2-0

Next game vs. Arizona: W 35-7

2000

Record before the bye: 2-3

Next game vs. N.Y. Giants: L 19-14

2001

Record before the bye: 1-4

Next game  vs. Arizona: W 17-3

2002

Record before the bye: 3-6

Next game vs. Indianapolis: L 20-3

2003

Record before the bye: 1-1

Next game vs. N.Y. Jets: W 17-6

2004

Record before the bye: 2-1

Next game vs. N.Y. Giants: L 26-10

2005

Record before the bye: 5-3

Next game vs. Philadelphia: W 21-20

2006

Record before the bye: 1-1

Next game vs. Tennessee: W 45-14

2007

Record before the bye: 6-1

Next game vs. Philadelphia: W 38-17

2008

Record before the bye: 5-4

Next game vs. Washington: W 14-10

2009

Record before the bye: 3-2

Next game vs. Atlanta: W 37-21

2010

Record before the bye: 1-2

Next game vs. Tennessee: L 34-27

2011

Record before the bye: 2-2

Next game vs. New England: L 20-16

2012

Record before the bye: 2-2

Totals:

Winning records before a bye week (counting the 1993 season twice): 13

Losing record before a bye week: 7

.500 record before a bye week (including the 2012 season): 4

Record after a bye week: 16-7

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