Big D Needed to Be Just a Little Bigger : Pro football: Cowboys’ drive comes up inches short, giving Browns an important victory, 19-14.


Upon the Dallas Cowboys’ coat of invincibility, there has appeared a seam.

“Six inches,” Coach Barry Switzer muttered Saturday after a 19-14 loss to the Cleveland Browns. “Four inches. Three inches.”

Funny how so much can escape through something so small.

In that short distance between Jay Novacek and the potential winning touchdown in the final raucous seconds against the Browns, the Cowboys lost mystique, bravado, and most of their chance to be hosts of the NFC championship game next month.

In that same distance, the Browns gained the sort of chest-thumping confidence that can make a team believe it belongs in a Super Bowl.


It was Switzer who said it best in a single word shouted from the chaotic Texas Stadium sidelines after the Browns had stunned the Cowboys.


What, indeed.

In a game the Cowboys should have lost after the first 59 minutes, they nearly won in the final tick after driving 50 yards with no timeouts.

But they needed to drive 51 yards.

Or Novacek, the Cowboys’ 6-foot-4 tight end, needed to be 6-10.

With 10 seconds remaining, Cowboy quarterback Troy Aikman threw a slant pass to Novacek from the six-yard line.

Novacek caught it on the two, and slipped as he was diving for the end zone. As he stretched to place the ball over the goal line, Brown safety Eric Turner leaped on his head.

“It was the kind of thing every defensive player dreams of,” Turner said. “I saw him coming and I thought, ‘It’s either you or me, I’m the hero or the goat.’ ”

The officials properly ruled that Novacek did not get into the end zone. Time expired.

And the Cowboys had lost a game after Thanksgiving for only the second time in three years.


“The guys have got to get off their butt, study and play football instead of thinking we’re the best damn team,” Cowboy defensive end Charles Haley said angrily.

The Cowboys were so dazed after only their third loss in 14 games, many of them did not shake hands with the winners during the postgame chaos at midfield. The Browns were not so dazed that they didn’t notice.

“They were sore losers,” said Brown special teams star Bennie Thompson. “They are not true champions because true champions shake hands.”

Cleveland tight end Frank Hartley put it another way.

“How ‘bout them Cowgirls!” he shouted in the locker room.

While the Browns (10-4) now have a chance to gain home-field advantage throughout the AFC playoffs with victories in their final two games, the Cowboys must rely on the San Francisco 49ers to lose two of their last three games.

If that doesn’t happen, the road to a record third consecutive Super Bowl championship runs through San Francisco, where the Cowboys were whipped earlier this year.

Not that the Cowboys are thinking about anything now but avoiding the road to slow ruin.

“It was a mental letdown; it was a physical letdown,” running back Emmitt Smith said. “Everybody is talking about San Francisco. We’re trailing everybody as far as I’m concerned.”


How it happened that they were trailing the defense-rich but quarterback-poor Browns for most of the game is something that could haunt this team until spring.

--Their defense, confronted for one of the first times this year with a bruising running back not afraid to stick the ball down their shirts, spent much of afternoon backpedaling.

Leroy Hoard, with more rushing yards this season (791) than in his previous four seasons combined, gained 99 yards in 25 tries. This helped the Browns hold the ball for 11 minutes of the third quarter while outgaining the Cowboys, 65-1, in that period.

“Our defense is steadily going downhill,” Haley said.

--Their quarterback, playing for the first time in three games, looked like a typical young man who has been rocked this season with head, thumb and knee injuries.

Until that final drive, Aikman was mostly terrible.

“I don’t think I threw the ball well at any time in the game,” Aikman said.

He threw two interceptions, but could have thrown four others that were dropped. He lost a fumble with 2:11 remaining that led to Matt Stover’s fourth field goal and forced the Cowboys to go for a touchdown to win.

And that final pass to Novacek was even slightly second-guessed by Switzer. The coach acknowledged that with 10 seconds remaining, it is preferable to throw into the end zone so you can run two plays if the first one doesn’t result in a touchdown.


“He had a couple of options on that play,” Switzer said. “Things happen so fast. . . .”

They were happening so fast for the reeling Browns’ defense that players were screaming at each other after calling timeout with 10 seconds left.

“Some of the guys were yelling for us to play zone, other guys were yelling for blitz, but I was just yelling one name--Novacek,” Turner said. “I knew that is who Troy likes in those situations.”

So instead of throwing to Alvin Harper in the corner of the end zone, Aikman threw the shorter pass.

The Browns will not soon forget what happened next, just as Turner will not forget needing to sink a free throw in the final seconds for Ventura High that would send a game into overtime against Oxnard High many years ago.

“I made that too,” he said, smiling.


Finding Paydirt

With his two touchdowns Saturday, Emmitt Smith is closing in on the record for most touchdowns in a season. The single-season leaders:

Player Team Year Total John Riggins Washington 1983 24 Jerry Rice San Francisco 1987 23 O.J. Simpson Buffalo 1975 23 Chuck Foreman Minnesota 1975 22 Gale Sayers Chicago 1965 22 Joe Morris N.Y. Giants 1985 21 x-Emmitt Smith Dallas 1994 21