Quarterback Troy Aikman continues to prove that the Dallas Cowboys made a wise decision when they traded Steve Walsh to the New Orleans Saints in September.
Aikman outplayed Walsh Sunday in a duel of Dallas first-round draft picks as the Cowboys kept alive their hopes for a wild-card playoff berth with a 17-13 victory.
Aikman completed 15 of 21 passes for 177 yards and directed two 80-yard touchdown drives in the second half to help the Cowboys (6-7) beat the Saints at Texas Stadium for the eighth consecutive time and score back-to-back home victories for the first time since 1985.
Aikman had no passes intercepted for the first time in 14 games.
“Troy was just excellent,” said Cowboy Coach Jimmy Johnson, who made the decision to trade Walsh, the quarterback who won a national title for him at the University of Miami. “Troy made some great plays against an outstanding rush.”
Walsh completed 18 of 27 passes for 177 yards for the Saints (5-7).
But Aikman, who beat out Walsh in training camp, completed all 11 of his passes in the second half, including a five-yard scoring pass to Darryl Johnston for the go-ahead touchdown early in the fourth quarter.
“It was tough putting the duel with Steve out of my mind, but I just took a ‘I don’t care attitude,’ ” Aikman said. “Steve and I spoke before the game. I think he played well, hitting some key passes.”
Said New Orleans Coach Jim Mora: “I was very disappointed in our defense in the second half. We didn’t play to our potential.”
Dallas cut a 10-0 halftime deficit to three points when Aikman connected with Kelvin Martin on a 45-yard pass play to set up a one-yard touchdown run by Emmitt Smith on the first possession of the second half.
Dallas also got a 47-yard field goal from rookie Ken Willis with 53 seconds to play.
“That helped because New Orleans had to drive the length of the field without any timeouts,” Johnson said.
The field goal came after Mora had decided to punt on fourth and 10 from the Dallas 38 with 3:29 left.
“I thought we could hold Dallas and get the ball back,” Mora said.
Saint kicker Morten Andersen said he thought he could have made what would have been a 55-yard attempt. He had kicked a 50-yard field goal earlier in the game.
“I’m not going to second-guess the coach’s decision,” Andersen said. “He wanted to punt. It would have been a longshot, but I feel I could have hit it.”
Walsh guided the Saints on a 13-play, 89-yard drive in the second quarter. Passes of 22 yards to Gill Fenerty and 13 yards to Floyd Turner set up a 15-yard scoring run by Rueben Mayes, who rushed for 59 yards in 13 carries.
Smith gained 85 yards in 20 carries for the Cowboys.
The victory, which was sweet revenge for a 28-0 loss to New Orleans last year in Jimmy Johnson’s NFL coaching debut, marked the first back-to-back home victories for Dallas since 1985.