The Dallas Cowboys, their superstars performing as if a Most Valuable Player trophy and new automobile were to be awarded, overwhelmed the Oakland Raiders, 34-21, before 54,092 in the Oakland Alameda County Coliseum yesterday.
The Cowboys (9-2) knocked quarterback Jeff Hostetler out with a shoulder injury, rebounded convincingly from last week's 38-20 defeat to the San Francisco 49ers, and handed the Raiders (8-3) their first home loss since returning to Oakland.
"That was nice," Dallas offensive lineman Nate Newton said. "Everybody was saying we were a joke and the coach and the players should be fired after what happened last week. Now I can't wait to hear what the hard-liners have to say this week."
The Cowboys not only reasserted themselves as the best team in football, but also took the opportunity to show off the game's best players:
* Running back Emmitt Smith, who rushed for 152 yards and three touchdowns three years ago against the Raiders, scored three again while running 29 times for 110 yards.
* Wide receiver Michael Irvin, taking advantage of Raiders tradition, beat Terry McDaniel's persistent single coverage with seven receptions for 109 yards, including a 17-yard touchdown catch for the game's first score.
* Quarterback Troy Aikman, who is bothered by a sore left knee, demolished the Raiders secondary with 19-for-24 passing for 227 yards and no interceptions.
* Cornerback Deion Sanders, hired to deliver the Cowboys to Arizona for the Super Bowl, ignited the onslaught with an acrobatic interception in the first quarter.
"I was trailing the play, so I saw the whole thing," Dallas safety Darren Woodson said. "There isn't a defensive back in the league who could make that play. You have a guy as fast as Rocket Ismail running deep down the field and Deion just goes over the top to catch the ball. I just shook my head in amazement."
While most teams design a game plan to avoid Sanders, the Raiders went right after him.
"This team [Oakland] has a hell of an ego," Sanders said. "I respect that, but let me tell you, I have no more bait left in the bait shop."
Sanders appeared to be beaten deep by Ismail on the Raiders' first play from scrimmage after Dallas' first score. The hook had been set. Hostetler went deep to Ismail, Sanders made the catch and then raised the ball in his left hand high over his head before returning it 34 yards to set up another score.
Sanders' interception and return to the Oakland 29-yard line eventually allowed Smith to score his first touchdown of the game at the start of the second quarter.
"Honestly, it's been a very depressing week since losing to the 49ers," Smith said. "But Deion made the big play, and that really got us going.
The Raiders tried to keep the game interesting with a comeback drive culminating in Harvey Williams' 7-yard touchdown run, but after closing to 14-7, Oakland faded.
Aikman downplayed the quality gap between the conferences.
"Today was our day," Aikman said. "But there are some quality teams in the AFC; Oakland is one of them, and so is Kansas City. I know what's happened in the past, but I don't know if the margin between the NFC and AFC is as great as everyone would like to believe."
The Raiders, who were trying to establish themselves as a legitimate threat to the NFC's postseason domination, lost Hostetler with 15 seconds to play in the first half. Dallas defensive tackle Chad Hennings dropped his 295 pounds on Hostetler, driving Hostetler's already sore left shoulder hard in
to the turf.
Hostetler never returned, prompting 40-year-old Vince Evans to take command.