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Rally Keeps Playoff Hopes of America’s Team Alive

<i> Times Staff Writer</i>

When you are called America’s Team, there are no secrets.

People know when you are in danger of losing three straight games for the first time in seven years. People know when you are on the verge of having an 11-game record of no better than 6-5 for the first time in 12 years.

Yes, people knew that the Dallas Cowboys had those items--and their season--on the line in the fourth quarter Sunday while trailing the Chargers, 21-10.

With a loss, the Cowboys would have been waiting until next year instead of not being able to wait until next Sunday’s game with Washington.

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But when you are America’s Team, there is a tradition to uphold. That’s exactly what the Cowboys did with their late comeback that defeated the Chargers, 24-21.

“Our season was based on winning today,” Coach Tom Landry said. “We still have hope. If we didn’t win today, we wouldn’t have much hope.”

The Cowboy playoff hopes are just barely alive because of a blocked punt, a late-touchdown drive and a missed 55-yard Charger field-goal attempt in the final seconds.

Dallas even survived a last-minute fumble by Tony Dorsett when he was simply trying to hang on to the ball.

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“Teams win ugly on us,” Dallas offensive guard Glen Titensor said. “Maybe it’s about time we win ugly on them.”

Indeed, this was not the Mona Lisa in terms of artistic value for the Cowboys.

Quarterback Steve Pelluer seemed to be spending as much time on his back as he would while sleeping.

The Chargers tied a National Football League record by sacking Pelluer 12 times. Pelluer, replacing the injured Danny White, said he had a hip pointer and his body felt as sore it has at any time this season.

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“I didn’t even have a chance to look downfield a number of times,” Pelluer said. “Their pass rush kept them in the ballgame. Every time we got a drive going, they stopped us with their pass rush.”

With 8 1/2 minutes remaining, the Chargers wish they could have stopped Michael Downs of Dallas.

Downs, who normally lines up outside when the opposition is punting, lined up over center. The Cowboys had noticed that the Charger center always blocks to one side and leaves a gap up the middle.

That’s the path Downs took when he blocked Ralf Mojsiejenko’s punt, giving Dallas possession at the Charger two. The Cowboys scored three plays later and trailed, 21-17.

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Landry said the Cowboys probably couldn’t have won without the blocked punt.

“If that’s the case, tell him to recommend me for All-Pro or the Pro Bowl,” Downs said. “I’ll take that.”

On the Cowboys’ next drive, they took the ball into the end zone quite easily.

From the Dallas 39, Timmy Newsome ran 11 yards with a screen pass and Mike Sherrard gained 23 yards on a down-and-out pattern.

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Dorsett gained 25 yards on a screen pass the next play, setting up Pelluer’s winning two-yard run.

“We really felt we couldn’t get sacked on that drive,” Pelluer said. “I was conscious to get the ball off quick. We ran two screen plays that helped us out really well.”

Landry said Dorsett’s screen pass play “won the game for us.”

But in the final minute, Dorsett nearly lost the game.

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On a second-down play, Dorsett fumbled the ball away at San Diego’s 10 with 42 seconds remaining. Landry said the Cowboys were not content to sit on the ball because too much time remained.

Dorsett, who can be a charmer one minute and reclusive the next, showed both sides in the aftermath.

When reporters first approached him, someone asked about the fumble.

“I don’t want to talk about it,” Dorsett said. “I don’t even want to talk to you guys. Leave me the (bleep) alone. All you guys have done is dwell on the negative my whole (bleeping) career.”

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The other side of Dorsett returned to his locker several minutes later.

“I thought I was down and my momentum was stopped,” he said of the fumble. “I thought the ref would blow his whistle. Someone knocked the ball up.”

Dorsett was on a roll. He was only too happy at that point to discuss his favorite play, the 25-yard screen pass that set up the winning touchdown.

“I deal with that kind of play naturally,” Dorsett said. “It’s hard to go back and think about what I saw. I know I saw a lot of green (grass). I thought I might score.”

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The scoring was left to Pelluer, who had a lot of scores to settle with the Charger defense.

When the Cowboys filed into their dressing room afterward, cornerback Johnny Holloway best described their feelings.

“I don’t ever want to come here again,” he said.


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