IRVING, TEXAS — IRVING, Texas -- On an afternoon when the Cowboys actually tightened their grip on the top position in the NFC East, Dallas looked like anything but a first-place team.
A two-game lead with seven to play is now a two-game lead with six to play. There ends the good news for the Cowboys, who were fortunate the Washington Redskins and Philadelphia Eagles also lost yesterday. The Cowboys had their 11-game winning streak at home broken by a team that had lost 12 straight on the road.
The improbable became reality all around the NFL yesterday, but nowhere was it stranger than at Texas Stadium, where the Los Angeles Rams scored early and often to upset the Cowboys, 27-23.
The league's No. 1 defense, which had held opponents to seven third-down conversions in 51 attempts during a five-game winning streak and one in 25 the last three weeks, was shredded yesterday. Los Angeles converted eight of 15.
"I don't know that we played poorly, but the Rams played very well," Cowboys coach Jimmy Johnson said. "They were scoring touchdowns while we were settling for field goals."
That trend surfaced immediately when Los Angeles embarkeon an 81-yard touchdown drive after the opening kickoff. Dallas answered by moving to the Rams' 19, where, on fourth-and-one, Johnson opted for the field goal. A strange decision? Well, the Rams do have the league's worst run defense (5.0 yards per carry), and the Cowboys do have a fairly capable back named Emmitt Smith.
"If we hadn't made it, it would have been a negative," saiJohnson. And you had to figure the Cowboys would get more chances.
They did, but only one drive resulted in a touchdown. The Cowboys traveled 57 yards on their next possession with Smith doing most of the traveling. His 29-yard run to the 3 put him over the 1,000-yard mark. His 3-yard carry on the next play put Dallas on top, 10-7.
Lin Elliott kicked a 42-yard field goal for a 13-7 lead before Rams quarterback Jim Everett led the Rams on a pair of 78-yard drives late in the half. He hit Jeff Chadwick on an 8-yard touchdown pass and Cleveland Gary on a 3-yarder for a 21-13 lead.
Everett was 22-for-37 for 251 yards and no interceptions, an outstanding performance against what after nine weeks had been the league's No. 1 defense.
"It was exactly what he always does when he plays the 49ers," said Charles Haley, who was limited by a groin pull. "He always comes in and plays a team he's not supposed to beat and he does a great job."
Dallas came back to take the lead in the third quarter when Kelvin Martin followed another Elliott field goal with a 74-yard punt return for a touchdown.
But it was too early for Dallas to take this one to the locker room.
Tony Zendejas' 33-yard field goal made it 24-23 with 10:29 to play.
The Rams' defense held Dallas, then drove for another field goal to take a 27-23 lead with 1:54 to go.
Dallas drove from its 24 to the Rams' 14 with seven seconds to go as Troy Aikman completed five of eight passes. After using the last timeout, Aikman had a shot at Alvin Harper in the end zone, but safety Anthony Newman tipped the ball away.
The clock showed one second. This time Aikman drifted out of the pocket to the left, then threw back across the field to . . . no one. The ball bounced through the end zone, and the Rams had the upset.
"They met the challenge and we didn't," said Cowboys defensive tackle Russell Maryland. "I think it gave them an added boost to come here to Texas Stadium and play the so-called No. 1 team."
For now, that's a distinction the 8-2 Cowboys will have to share with 8-2 San Francisco 49ers in the NFC.
Los Angeles 7 14 0 6 27
Dallas .. ..3 10 10 0 23