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THE NFL / 1996

Cowboys Get Past Cardinals, 10-6

NFC: Aikman and Irvin combine on 50-yard play for game's only touchdown as Dallas takes over sole possession of first place in NFC East.

December 09, 1996|From Associated Press

TEMPE, Ariz. — The Dallas Cowboys are back in first place, put there by a patchwork defense crippled by suspension and injuries.

Troy Aikman and Michael Irvin combined on a 50-yard pass for the game's only touchdown Sunday as Dallas beat Arizona, 10-6, to vault over Washington and Philadelphia in the NFC East.

But it was the defense, without a suspended Leon Lett and missing Deion Sanders for more than a half because of back spasms, that kept the Cardinals out of the end zone by forcing four turnovers.

"The defense carried this ballgame," Irvin said. "We've got to do something about that and help this team win football games."

Irvin had eight receptions for 198 yards--second-highest yardage of his career--and Aikman completed 15 of 24 passes for 255 yards for Dallas (9-5).

Emmitt Smith gained 70 yards and made first downs when needed as the Cowboys ran out the clock.

"We won today in adverse conditions and on the road when other people were unable to," Coach Barry Switzer said after the Cowboys' second consecutive victory after being beaten by the New York Giants. "Just getting out of here up 7-6 was all we were after."

It was Dallas' 13th consecutive victory over the Cardinals and virtually eliminated Arizona (6-8) from the playoffs.

The Cardinals led, 6-0, at halftime after 33- and 28-yard field goals by Kevin Butler.

But the Cowboys' defense played with more intensity in the second half.

Rookie Randall Godfrey made a game-turning play with 7:27 to play in the third quarter when he forced Leeland McElroy to fumble at the end of a 32-yard run into Dallas territory. Sanders, who had just entered the game, recovered at the 32 and, three plays later, Aikman and Irvin combined for the touchdown, Irvin breaking away from two tacklers to run the final 40 yards.

Safety Darren Woodson got the second Dallas interception of Boomer Esiason with 10:31 to play, putting the ball at the Arizona 23. Three plays later, Chris Boniol's 31-yard field goal made it 10-6.

Both teams blew scoring chances with turnovers.

Aikman's 55-yard pass to Irvin set up the Cowboys on the Arizona one, but Smith fumbled and Matt Darby recovered for the Cardinals. Then McElroy's run was aborted by his fumble, just as an interception by George Teague cut short an Arizona drive in the first half.

"I think this football team has to be happy with any win, regardless of what it looks like," Aikman said. "It's been that kind of season. We're not pleased offensively with the way we played, and having said that, we're glad to get out of here with a win."

Sanders had back spasms during warmups and was in the Dallas locker room for most of the first half.

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