PHILADELPHIA -- The wind in Veterans Stadium was fierce yesterday, but the Dallas Cowboys blew this one on their own.
The Philadelphia Eagles defeated the Cowboys, 20-17, by stopping them on a crucial fourth-down play late in the game.
Rather than punt into the wind on fourth-and-one from its 29, Dallas ran running back Emmitt Smith off left tackle, where he was stopped for no gain. However, the officials ruled the two-minute warning had come before the play and gave Dallas another chance. The Cowboys failed again when defensive end Daniel Stubbs stuffed Smith on the very same play.
"We thought we stopped him the first time, and we were just hoping they would line up and run the same thing," Stubbs said.
Four plays later, Philadelphia kicker Gary Anderson hit a 42-yard field goal, his fourth of the game, for the win. Because of a problem with the game clock, Anderson had to kick the winning field goal twice; but, unlike the Cowboys, he made good on his second chance.
Dallas coach Barry Switzer said he figured Smith and his mammoth offensive line had a better shot at gaining the one foot needed for a first down than punter John Jett did of kicking into the stiff wind.
"If we kick into the wind, they're going to come back and kick a field goal," Switzer said. "If we would have had the wind, we would have kicked the football. That wasn't the difference; the way we played for 30 minutes in the second half was the difference."
Cowboys cornerback Deion Sanders said: "If you can't gain an inch, you deserve to lose. I think we played well; we just didn't get the job done, again."
"It surprised us," Eagles coach Ray Rhodes said of Switzer's decision. "But when you've been on top as long as they've been on top, you take your chances. That's the sign of a team that has a lot of confidence."
That confidence apparently is waning. The Cowboys are still atop the NFC East, but have dropped consecutive games for the first time since 1993. Dallas has lost three of its past five and now holds a one-game divisional lead over the Eagles.
"It creates doubts for the first time about the kind of football team we are," said fullback Daryl Johnston.
With a chance to tie the game with a field goal, quarterback Troy Aikman completed three of 10 passes in the final 1:26.
"It's frustrating," Aikman said. "I am concerned about what's going on within the organization."
There seemed to be little organization in the second half. The Cowboys failed to score and wasted opportunities to put Philadelphia away long before Switzer's fourth-down decision.
Smith ran for 98 yards in the first half on 18 carries, but picked up 10 on nine second-half attempts. Aikman completed 11 of 28 attempts for 110 yards, as his receivers dropped several passes. The offense was held to 47 second-half yards and accounted for 10 points; cornerback Larry Brown put Dallas ahead 17-3 with a 65-yard interception return for a touchdown.
Even when the Cowboys recovered a fumble by Eagles quarterback Rodney Peete in the fourth period, they failed to cover the 15 yards needed for the score -- Smith fumbled at the goal line. Smith also fumbled near the goal line in last week's loss to the Washington Redskins.
"We made some adjustments to shore things up and came out and did a real nice job from a defensive standpoint," Rhodes said. "We had a lot of people stand up and do the things necessary for us to win today."
After spending much of the first half on his back under constant Dallas pressure, Peete stood up in the second half and brought the Eagles back.
Peete, Aikman's backup a year ago, outplayed the Cowboys quarterback by completing 20 of 29 passes for 187 yards and gaining another 35 rushing. On fourth-and-seven from the Dallas 30-yard line, he raced up the middle for nine yards. The run set up Ricky Watters' 1-yard touchdown run, and Peete's two-point conversion pass to Fred Barnett shaved the Cowboys' lead to 17-14.
Peete completed short passes to Calvin Williams and Barnett and even found Art Monk twice to keep the veteran's consecutive-game reception streak going at 181. The rest of the time, he just gave the ball to Watters, who carried 33 times for 112 yards, 82 in the second half.