IRVING, Texas -- With their teams wearing classic uniforms, the star running backs staged a battle for the ages. But ultimately it was Broderick Thomas' strip of Troy Aikman that enabled the Detroit Lions to complete a stunning upset of the Dallas Cowboys.
Aikman's fumble with two minutes to play in sudden death was recovered by Thomas at the Dallas 43. Jason Hanson's 44-yard field goal with just 27 seconds left in overtime lifted the Lions to a 20-17 victory last night at Texas Stadium.
The final numbers for the superstar backs: Barry Sanders, 40 carries for 194 yards; Emmitt Smith, 29 carries for 143 yards.
"Their quarterback [Scott Mitchell] and Barry Sanders played an outstanding game," Cowboys coach Barry Switzer said. "We made too many mistakes, fought our guts out. I always said sometimes the best team doesn't win. The team that makes the fewest mistakes wins. Obviously, Detroit did that."
The bottom-line numbers for both the Cowboys and the Lions: 2-1 records. For Detroit, that's enough to tie Minnesota for first in the NFC Central. Dallas, somewhat shockingly, trails the New York Giants by one game in the NFC East and has two
weeks to deal with it since neither team plays again until Oct. 2.
Some Dallas fans were staggered a week ago when the Cowboys beat Houston, a two-touchdown underdog, by only 20-17. Detroit, likewise, was a 13-point underdog, but this time the Cowboys were on the low end of a 20-17 final.
Although linebacker Robert Jones made numerous tackles, the Cowboys' run defense will come under fire once more. Sanders rushed for the fourth-highest total ever against the Cowboys, gaining 92 yards in the first half, 102 more after halftime.
"He's a great back, most dangerous back in the league," Switzer said. "I thought he had more than that [194 yards]. Everybody knows what he is. But that quarterback did a great job, didn't turn the ball over."
The memorable plays and missed opportunities could be talked about for months. For a time, it appeared that the star of the game would be Dallas' star-crossed defensive tackle Leon Lett, who blocked a pair of Hanson field-goal attempts -- one from 58 yards at the end of regulation, another from 51 in overtime.
But the Cowboys' offense could generate nothing in the overtime or down the stretch. They moved to midfield on their first sudden-death possession, but an Aikman pass batted into the air and caught by guard Derek
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Kennard was fumbled, and Detroit recovered.
On the Cowboys' second overtime series, they again advanced to the 50, but Aikman was sacked by Thomas and fumbled the ball away.
Sanders by this time was too exhausted to carry the team, but the Lions got a 17-yard pass from Mitchell to Brett Perriman to move into Hanson's field-goal range.
Mitchell, the Lions' slightly immobile left-handed passer, threw for two touchdowns to lift his team.
Dallas had struck first, driving 80 yards on its opening possession for its only touchdown until the fourth quarter. Aikman's 17-yard pass to Alvin Harper put Dallas on top just 5:11 into the game.
Hanson's 32-yard field goal cut the score to 7-3, and the Lions took the lead in the second quarter when Mitchell threw 25 yards to Perriman for a score. The 10-7 halftime lead for Detroit marked the first time since the Super Bowl that Dallas had trailed at halftime.
After gaining the upper hand in field position to start the second half, the Lions scored on their second series. Mitchell's 9-yard slant pass to Herman Moore put Detroit on top 17-7 with 9:44 to go in the quarter.
The Cowboys then drove to the Lions' 1-yard line, but Smith was stopped on second- and third-down runs, and the Cowboys were forced to settle for a 19-yard field goal.
Hanson then suffered the first of three long misses, and the Cowboys drove for the tying score. Smith's 6-
yard run around right end made it 17-17 with 4:09 to play in regulation.
a,3 Other than the blocks by Lett -- whose blunder last Thanksgiving resulted in the Cowboys' most recent loss before last night -- that was the end of the Cowboys' heroics. Now, they don't play again until Oct. 2 at the Washington Redskins.
"I told them we're starting a long journey," Switzer said. "There's going to be some setbacks. They've been in deeper holes than this before."