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Aikman Throws Game Eagles' Way

Pro football: Dallas quarterback has two passes intercepted, including one in final minute of 31-21 Philadelphia victory.

November 04, 1996|From Associated Press

IRVING, Texas — Dallas quarterback Troy Aikman made two uncharacteristic mistakes, and the Philadelphia Eagles made him pay in their first victory in Texas Stadium in five years.

Aikman had one pass intercepted to set up the Eagles' go-ahead field goal, then had another picked off after trying to throw the ball away at the three-yard line. The second mistake was returned for the clinching touchdown Sunday in Philadelphia's 31-21 victory over the Cowboys.

"I wasn't trying to complete the pass," said Aikman, who completed 21 of 33 for 179 yards. "I was trying to get rid of it. I should have taken the sack or thrown it out the end zone. It was a bad play."

Linebacker James Willis intercepted Aikman's last-minute pass, returned it to the the 10 and lateraled to Troy Vincent, who went 90 yards for a touchdown with 12 seconds left, shocking the defending Super Bowl champions as they appeared to be going for the game-winner.

The Eagles are now 7-2 in the NFC East. The Cowboys dropped to 5-4 and are in danger of missing the playoffs. Philadelphia had lost nine of its last 10 games against Dallas and hadn't won in Texas Stadium since a 24-0 victory in 1991.

"I told Troy I wouldn't trade him for any other quarterback in America," Cowboy Coach Barry Switzer said. "He's a champion, but this will hurt him for a long time."

Other players said they saw no need to talk to Aikman and reassure him of their confidence. By now--after three Super Bowls in four years--they figure he knows they trust him.

"I think Troy will respond like a true champion," running back Emmitt Smith said. "He knows he'll be needed in the big games to come. We just have to get behind him and get ready to play next week."

Safety James Fuller intercepted Aikman's pass at the Dallas 35 to set up Gary Anderson's go-ahead 30-yard field goal with 3:19 to play, giving the Eagles a 24-21 lead.

But Aikman drove the Cowboys to the Eagle three, where on third down Willis made his big play. Willis decided to run the ball, then saw Vincent, who strutted the last three yards for the score as the Eagles celebrated wildly.

"When I saw him [Willis] intercept the ball, I was calling his name, hoping he heard me," Vincent said. "And he did. We were just looking to make a big play out of it. I didn't see anybody on that side of the field and I just kept going. I was going to try to score. We had nothing to lose.

"We felt this could be the game for the division championship. And it was a war. A 60-minute dogfight."

Eagle Coach Ray Rhodes said, "It's probably the biggest road win in my tenure. Our defense made the plays it had to make. I'm sure we'll see Dallas again somewhere down the line in the playoffs."

Smith's seven-yard touchdown run and Aikman's conversion pass to tight end Eric Bjornson tied the score, 21-21, with 10:14 to go.

Ty Detmer's 14-yard touchdown pass to Irving Fryar in the third quarter gave the Eagles a 21-13 lead after a perfectly orchestrated 75-yard drive.

Detmer, who began the game with a 3-0 record as a starter for the Eagles, kept the No. 2-rated Dallas defense off-balance as Philadelphia built a 14-10 halftime lead despite being stunned again by Herschel Walker.

Walker returned the opening kickoff 86 yards to set up a one-yard touchdown run by Smith. On Sept. 30, Walker's 49-yard kickoff return rallied Dallas to a 23-19 victory over the Eagles.

However, this time the Detmer-led Eagles weren't fazed. He directed them on a 74-yard drive and converted three third-down plays, with Ricky Watters scoring on a five-yard run.

"This puts us in great shape going into the final stretch," said Detmer, who completed 19 of 33 passes for 217 yards. "But beating them here doesn't mean anything. We've got seven more weeks."

Dallas went ahead, 10-7, on a 19-yard field goal by Chris Boniol after Aikman fumbled and recovered at the Eagles' one on a third-down play.

Late in the second quarter, Detmer completed passes of 18 yards to Ed West, 11 yards to Watters and 24 yards to Mark Seay to position the Eagles for the first rushing touchdown of Detmer's career, a six-yarder on a quarterback draw.

Smith's two touchdowns give him 105 rushing scores in his NFL career, moving him to No. 4 on the career list one ahead of John Riggins.

"It doesn't mean much when you lose a game like this," a downcast Smith said.

Smith rushed 24 times for 113 yards, but was overshadowed by Watters, who gained 116 yards in 24 carries.

Fryar caught nine passes for 120 yards before suffering a concussion in the fourth quarter. Michael Irvin of the Cowboys caught seven passes for 89 yards.

"The interception was kind of like when I was here before with Miami and Leon Lett touched the ball [on a blocked field goal] and we won," Fryar said. "You just have to keep the faith."

Downcast Dallas was wondering how it was going to win the NFC East again.

"We just have to go in the back door now," guard Nate Newton said.

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