One, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine minutes the Dallas Cowboys held onto the ball during a landmark drive that started in the third quarter and ended early in the fourth of the NFC championship game.
Nine minutes of blocking, running, passing and catching to the exacting standards mandated by the Better Business Bureau and Cowboys offensive coordinator Norv Turner.
Nine minutes of underscoring the difference between a team that will play in Super Bowl XXVII and a team that will stay home despite the best regular-season record in the league.
The Cowboys built a 30-20 victory yesterday afternoon at Candlestick Park on the foundation of a tense, methodical drive that wore and tore at the 49ers' defense. Tense: The Cowboys converted four of four third downs during the 79-yard drive -- all on passes by Troy Aikman. Methodical: It took 14 plays, none covering more than 16 yards, to go the distance.
"The defense is mesmerized, not knowing if you're going to run, pass, play-action pass," Cowboys left guard Nate Newton said. "They're going, 'Damn, this can't happen to us.' You look at them and say, 'It is happening to you.' "
Six runs, eight passes, seven points. Cowboys' seventh heaven and a 24-13 lead that withstood some late challenges from the 49ers' hurry-up offense. By the time the Cowboys polished off the drive with Aikman's 16-yard touchdown pass to Emmitt Smith with 12:25 left, the clock had been bled to the point the 49ers had to take emergency measures.
"They took control of the game," 49ers coach George Seifert said. "They executed their offense."
San Francisco defensive heads rolled. After a 141-yard first half, the Cowboys picked up 275 in the final 30 minutes. The same offensive line that needed four carries and 18:30 to get Smith's rushing total above zero wound up taking bows for his 114-yard day.
The same offensive line that marred Aikman's 11-of-18, 114-yard first half by allowing four sacks protected like the Secret Service the final 30 minutes. Left with ample time to scan the 49ers' secondary, Aikman picked it apart with 13-of-16, 208-yard passing in the second half.
"The thing about struggling," Newton said, "is if you get through it, what does it make you? If you get through it, it makes you a winner. We were just feeling them out."
The Cowboys had every reason to feel some heat when they took the field for their second possession of the second half. They had driven 78 yards for a touchdown that gave them a 17-10 lead, only to have the 49ers counter with a 42-yard Mike Cofer field goal. A crowd of 64,920 was screaming for the 49ers to make a stand.
The Cowboys held the ball for 35:20, including 13:15 of the first 17:35 of the second half. The 49ers' top-ranked offense was reduced to making cameo appearances.
"The big adjustment was running the ball," offensive lineman John Gesek said. "That's the key for us. We can't get back on our heels [pass-blocking]. We're at our best when we run the ball and pass the ball at the same time."
Newton shook his head and considered Smith's 24-carry, seven-catch day -- one made possible by an offensive line that gave the 49ers a licking and kept the clock ticking.
"That's the piece -- Emmitt Smith," Newton said. "As long as Troy plays poised, nobody can stop us. And Michael Irvin makes plays. He talks so much, he has to."
Newton could proudly set a Super Bowl cap on his head and smile.
"We ain't passed the torch," Newton said. "Not yet. We'll pass the torch when we win the Super Bowl."
How the Bills and Cowboys fared this season against common opponents:
Opponent .. .. .. Buffalo .. .. .. Dallas
San Fran. . .. .. W, 34-31 . .. .. W, 30-20
Raiders ... .. .. L, 20-3 .. .. .. W, 28-13
Rams ... .. .. .. W, 40-7 .. .. .. L, 27-23
Denver . .. .. .. W, 27-17 . .. .. W, 31-27
Atlanta ... .. .. W, 41-14 . .. .. W, 41-17
Records ... .. .. 4-1 ... .. .. .. 4-1