The Dallas Cowboys have suddenly become Ram fans.
The Cowboys lost to the Atlanta Falcons, 26-7, Sunday, so they’ll be rooting for the Rams to beat the New Orleans Saints tonight.
A Ram victory would enable the Cowboys, despite a record of 7-9, to advance to the playoffs as the NFC’s final wild-card team and play the Chicago Bears in the first round.
If the Saints win, they’ll finish 8-8 and play the Bears next weekend. The Cowboys, 1-15 last season, will advance if both teams finish 7-9 because they beat the Saints, 17-13, on Dec. 2.
Cowboy Coach Jimmy Johnson didn’t sound very optimistic about his team’s chances after Sunday’s loss. “The Saints can get ready to play Chicago,” he said.
Johnson’s foul mood was understandable. “It was one of those days everything we did was wrong,” said Johnson of a offense that managed only 151 yards.
For the Falcons, Keith Jones returned the second-half kickoff 76 yards for a touchdown and Deion Sanders added another touchdown on a 61-yard interception return.
The Falcons, who last week beat the Rams, 20-13, won their second in a row for the first time since November, 1988, to finish 5-11.
Atlanta Coach Jerry Glanville said: “They came in here to go to the playoffs and we came in here to show them who the best team was.
“We heard they had five cases of champagne on ice, so we bought our own bottle, which cost us $2.29.”
Dallas defensive back Bill Bates said: “We hope New Orleans loses, but if they don’t we’ll look back on the situation and say we had it within our grasp.”
Jones’ 76-yard return to open the second half gave the Falcons a 14-0 lead and was their second touchdown within 42 seconds. With 24 seconds left in the first half, Tracy Johnson scored from the one to cap a 79-yard drive.
The Falcons added a safety 4:02 into the third quarter when Emmitt Smith was tackled in the end zone by Tim Green.
The safety came after Atlanta’s Mike Rozier, who gained a career-high 155 yards in 21 carries, ran 67 yards to the Cowboys’ one. The run was a club record for longest run from scrimmage, breaking the previous record of 66 yards by Harmon Wages.
The Falcons, however, failed to score in four tries and Dallas took over, leading to the safety.
Greg Davis kicked a 23-yard field goal early in the fourth quarter to make it 19-0 after the Falcons drove 74 yards in 19 plays, with Rozier picking up 59 yards.
On the next series, Dallas quarterback Babe Laufenberg, making his first start since Nov. 27, 1988, threw his second interception, which Sanders picked off and returned 61 yards for the score. It was Sanders’ third touchdown of the season, his second on an interception, with the other coming on a punt return.
The Cowboys managed only four first downs and 77 yards through the first three quarters in a game played on a slippery Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium field after three days of light rain. The field also was chopped up by Auburn and Indiana in the Peach Bowl the previous day.
The Cowboys averted a shutout when Laufenberg connected on a 27-yard touchdown pass play to Jay Novacek with 2:35 left in the game.
Laufenberg, who replaced Troy Aikman last week after the starter suffered a separated shoulder, completed only 10 of 24 passes for 129 yards with two interceptions.
The Cowboys’ Smith, who needed 97 rushing yards for 1,000, managed only 34 in 16 carries.