IRVING, Texas -- Pete Stoyanovich and the Miami Dolphins discovered a cure for the uncommon cold yesterday at Texas Stadium. When it appeared the Dolphins would finish a snowplow short of upsetting Dallas, Leon Lett made an unconscionable mistake that immediately lowered the wind-chill and dropped the Cowboys.
Cowboys defensive lineman Jimmie Jones seemed to clinch a 14-13 victory for the Cowboys when he blocked Stoyanovich's 41-yard field-goal attempt with 15 seconds left.
But with some teammates -- and owner Jerry Jones -- celebrating on the sideline and others standing around the ball at the 7, Lett suddenly came sliding in as if to recover and inadvertently kicked the football to the Dallas 1-yard line. The Dolphins' Jeff Dellenbach recovered, and Stoyanovich cleared himself a place on the icy turf and made a 19-yarder on the final play to defeat the Cowboys, 16-14.
"Look at the tape, and you'll see Thomas Everett, Darrin Smith and Darren Woodson, all those guys, waving their arms and getting away from the football," Cowboys special teams coach Joe Avezzano said in a subdued locker room.
"They don't do that by accident. It's not a rule anybody goes over every game, but it's touched on. Today, 11 guys didn't do what we really needed to do. We had 10 guys getting away from the ball, and we had one who didn't. I'm not sure anyone can explain why."
It was the most important, improbable and inexplicable miscue since the Super Bowl blooper in which Lett prematurely celebrated what should have been a 65-yard fumble recovery for a touchdown against the Buffalo Bills. But Don Beebe chased down Lett and knocked the ball from his grasp. Then the Cowboys had a 35-point lead. Their advantage yesterday was one point.
"I've won a lot of games and lost a lot of games," Cowboys special teams player Bill Bates said. "I've never lost one like that."
There were, to be sure, other Cowboys players who were unfamiliar with the rules on blocked kicks. Wide receiver Michael Irvin openly admitted he was uncertain.
But Lett, a $900,000-a-year defensive lineman, was the only player who attempted to touch the football, which occurred as most Cowboys players had run toward the sideline.
Lett, who as a down lineman does not have to attend special teams meetings, dressed in the shower area -- off limits to the media.
There was such confusion surrounding the decisive play that most Cowboys players were unaware of what Lett had done.
"I rushed and was behind the line of scrimmage, saw the ball batted and anyone in their right mind was celebrating if they knew the rules," said Kevin Smith. "Leon thought he had to recover the ball. It's not excusable, but it's understandable."