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When All Seems Lost, Go Back In Time

Cowboys offensive line coach Tony Wise said. "What we can't have is second and 12." 

  So all week long leading up to the game, Cowboys head coach Jimmy Johnson preached ball control; he preached defense; he preached special teams. But most of all, he preached to Beuerlein, who had replaced the injured Aikman (sprained knee ligament) for the past 2½ games, and basically told him this: 

  I don't care if you throw 20 straight incompletions, I don't care if you don't ever complete a pass, but don't you dare take a sack so their defense and crowd can get all revved up. We'll figure out a way to win this, but don't you lose it by taking sacks or throwing interceptions. 

  Then starting guard Alan Veingrad provided proof of Jimmy's spiel, saying, "They said to Beuerlein, if the play was not there, throw the ball away. They didn't want him to get hurt and didn't want him to get sacked." 

  So Beuerlein followed orders to a T that December afternoon when the wind chill dropped to 12 degrees at The Vet thanks to bone-chilling 23 mph winds. He just didn't mess around in the pocket, and might have taken Johnson's orders to an extreme, opening the game with 10 straight incompletions. He did not complete a pass until there was 2:28 left in the first half. 

  But I'll be darned, there the Cowboys were, jumping out to of all things, a 5-0 lead thanks to a safety and Ken Willis' 50-yard field goal, and found themselves trailing only 10-5 at halftime. 

  Beuerlein finished the first half completing just two of 17 passes for all of 17 yards, and none to his wide receivers, not even Michael Irvin. But the Cowboys had no turnovers and no sacks. 

  They were able to narrow the Eagles lead to 10-8 in the third quarter, before lightning struck on the second play of the fourth, the Eagles forced to punt on fourth and 14 at their own 41 after Jeff Kemp, subbing for the injured Jim McMahon, took a sack. 

  Cowboys wide receiver Kevlin Martin, standing at his own 15-yard line, grabbed the punt and sped up the middle of the field, and it was as if the sea had parted, Martin picking up a crushing block from Ike Holt that allowed him to complete the 85-yard punt return for a touchdown. 

  The Cowboys led 15-10, and while the Eagles closed to 15-13 on the next possession, Beuerlein finally hit a pass down field to Jay Novacek, setting up a four-yard touchdown pass to Irvin for the knockout blow. 

  Unbelievable, the Cowboys won, 25-13, and were going to the playoffs. 

  "The whole key was not to have bad plays offensively," Johnson would say, and if you noticed, said nothing about having big plays on offense. Good thing. 

  Beuerlein finished the game completing just nine of 31 passes for 145 yards, and only five of those were to a wide receiver (Irvin). But most importantly, he had no interceptions and was sacked but one time - 10 less than Aikman the first time around. And get this: The Cowboys gained only 210 yards, had just 11 first downs, only 72 yards rushing - with Emmitt Smith - converted just four of 17 third downs and averaged a woeful 3.4 yards per play . . . per play! 

  Get this, too: Not counting the final kneel-down possession, the Cowboys went eight possessions without a first down, gaining just 13 yards, and had three more notching just one first down. 

  "Against those guys," Beuerlein would say later, "you got to throw the ball away and don't give them a sack." 

  And maybe more importantly than qualifying for the playoffs and going on to win their first playoff game (at Chicago) in nine seasons, the Cowboys had turned the tide against those big, bad Eagles, going on to spank them in 10 of 12 meetings - a streak that began without their Pro Bowl quarterback, having to rely on a backup who really hit only two big passes in the entire game and had completed passes to just three guys - Irvin, Novacek and Daryl Johnston. 

  So no matter what you think of Brad Johnson or what you think of just who the Cowboys have or don't have, indeed there are ways to win these games, and none has to be traditional. The bottom line, though, just as it was this past Sunday against

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