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Dallas Finds Redemption in Oakland : Pro football: Cowboys bounce back from loss to 49ers by reasserting NFC’s superiority in 34-21 victory over Raiders.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

It had the feel of a Super Bowl: sold-out stadium, emotionally charged fans and the NFC’s best football team toying with the AFC’s great hope for respect.

The Dallas Cowboys, their superstars performing as if a most-valuable-player trophy and new automobile were to be awarded, overwhelmed the Raiders, 34-21, before 54,092 in the Oakland Alameda County Coliseum on Sunday.

The Cowboys (9-2) knocked quarterback Jeff Hostetler out with a shoulder injury, rebounded convincingly from last week’s 38-20 defeat to San Francisco and handed the Raiders (8-3) their first home loss since returning to Oakland.

“That was nice,” Dallas offensive lineman Nate Newton said. “Everybody was saying we were a joke and the coach and the players should be fired after what happened last week. Now I can’t wait to hear what the hard-liners have to say this week.”

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The Cowboys not only reasserted themselves as the best team in football, but also took the opportunity to show off the game’s best players:

--Running back Emmitt Smith, who rushed for 152 yards and three touchdowns three years ago against the Raiders, scored three again while running 29 times for 110 yards.

--Wide receiver Michael Irvin, taking advantage of Raider tradition, beat Terry McDaniel’s persistent single coverage with seven receptions for 109 yards, including a 17-yard touchdown pass for the game’s first score.

--Quarterback Troy Aikman, who is bothered by a sore left knee, demolished the Raider secondary with 19-of-24 passing for 227 yards and no interceptions.

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--Cornerback Deion Sanders, hired to deliver the Cowboys to Arizona for the Super Bowl, ignited the onslaught with an acrobatic interception in the first quarter.

“I was trailing the play so I saw the whole thing,” Dallas safety Darren Woodson said. “There isn’t a defensive back in the league who could make that play. You have a guy as fast as Rocket Ismail running deep down the field and Deion just goes over the top to catch the ball. I just shook my head in amazement.”

While most teams design a game plan to avoid Sanders, the Raiders went right after him. “This team [Oakland] has a hell of an ego,” Sanders said. “I respect that, but let me tell you, I have no more bait left in the bait shop.”

Sanders appeared to be beaten deep by Ismail on the Raiders’ first play from scrimmage following Dallas’ first score. The hook had been set. Hostetler went deep to Ismail, Sanders made the catch and raised the ball in his left hand high over his head before returning it 34 yards to set up another Cowboy score.

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“I was just giving the fans a little something,” said Sanders, who met former Raider cornerback Lester Hayes after the game. “That’s my idol. I try to imitate that guy. He changed the way that position is played and made it possible for guys like me to command the salary we do. He’s the one and only.”

Sanders’ interception and return to the Oakland 29-yard line eventually allowed Smith to score his first touchdown of the game on the opening play of the second quarter.

“Honestly, it’s been a very depressing week since losing to the 49ers,” Smith said. “But Deion made the big play, and that really got us going.

“That was an awesome atmosphere today,” added Smith, who has 20 touchdowns this season. “Our fans left by halftime last week, but these fans stayed to the end in a blowout.”

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The Raiders tried to keep the game interesting with a comeback drive culminating in Harvey Williams’ seven-yard touchdown run, but after closing to 14-7, Oakland faded.

“It was like the Monday night loss to Denver in that we got caught standing around,” said Raider Coach Mike White. “And if you lose a step, lose a little confidence, they are just too good. I was concerned this was going to be a high-scoring game because they have such great players at the skill positions.

“Off this performance, I’d say we have a ways to go.”

The Cowboys went to halftime with a 17-7 advantage on Chris Boniol’s 26-yard field goal and then romped in the third quarter. Smith went left--the same way he had gone for his second-quarter four-yard score--for a 14-yard touchdown, then ran free left again for a four-yard touchdown and a 31-7 Dallas lead with 3:35 remaining in the third quarter.

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“Through the last five games, we’re in a must-win situation,” Aikman said. “We want the home-field advantage and a first-round bye in the playoffs.”

The Raiders, who were trying to establish themselves as a legitimate threat to the NFC’s postseason domination, lost Hostetler with 15 seconds to play in the first half. Dallas defensive tackle Chad Hennings dropped his 295 pounds on Hostetler, driving Hostetler’s already sore left shoulder hard into the field.

Hostetler never returned, prompting 40-year-old Vince Evans to take command.

“Their second-team quarterback,” Dallas Coach Barry Switzer said. “You would think that would be an advantage for us, but he played extremely well.”

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Evans led a late rally, throwing a 24-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Tim Brown and a 16-yard score to tight end Kerry Cash, but it was much ado about nothing. The Cowboys lost a 24-yard touchdown pass from Aikman to tight end Jay Novacek because of illegal motion, settled for a 38-yard Boniol field goal and ran off redeemed.

Next up for the Cowboys is a Thanksgiving date with another AFC Super Bowl candidate--the Kansas City Chiefs.

“Today was our day,” Aikman said. “But there are some quality teams in the AFC; Oakland is one of them, and so is Kansas City. I know what’s happened in the past, but I don’t know if the margin between the NFC and AFC is as great as everyone would like to believe.”


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