IRVING, Texas -- The difference was the Triplets.
Dallas' three key players -- quarterback Troy Aikman, running back Emmitt Smith and wide receiver Michael Irvin -- all made the big plays that gave the Cowboys a 38-27 victory over the Green Bay Packers in the NFC title game yesterday.
A year ago, the San Francisco 49ers turned a fumble by Irvin and an interception by Aikman into a 21-0 lead en route to a 38-28 victory over the Cowboys in the NFC title game. Smith was hampered by a sore hamstring that day.
They were all at the top of their game against the Packers, as Smith ran 35 times for 150 yards, Aikman completed 21 of 33 passes for 255 yards and wasn't intercepted, and Irvin caught seven passes for 100 yards.
"Our great players played great," coach Barry Switzer said. "Emmitt had a great game running the ball and it was great to have Michael Irvin back in form."
Aikman said of Smith: "Emmitt is an exceptional runner. Our O line was hitting people. He keeps his legs driving."
Smith said: "The offensive line did a great job of protecting Troy and opening up the running lanes."
Smith has had six career postseason 100-yard rushing games, tying the record held by John Riggins and Thurman Thomas.
Aikman's 104.0 postseason quarterback rating is second in NFL history to Bart Starr's 104.8. Aikman is 9-1 as a postseason starter.
Rivalry getting better, bitter
The Packers were bitter after the game about the way the Cowboys played and the way the officials called the game. They didn't like that Erik Williams knocked John Jurkovic out of the game with a block behind his knees and that Irvin wasn't called for pushing off.
Packers center Frank Winters, who got a penalty for pushing, said: "When one team gets away with something, the other team will try it, too. When that happens, things get a little out of &L; control and you start to see some real cheap shots.
"The Dallas Cowboys get away with stuff that no other team in the league gets away with. Irvin pushes off on every play, and everyone in the league knows it. But he's Michael Irvin. He's a superstar, he plays for the Cowboys and he gets away with it every week."
Winters said he was unhappy that Doug Evans was called for a penalty on Irvin late in the game when the Packers thought Irvin pushed off.
Of Williams' block on Jurkovic, Winters said: "I have no respect for a guy like that. The guy takes a 3-yard head start and dives at the back of John Jurkovic's knee. Nothing happened [from the officials]. If we do that to one of their players, it's a totally different story. But that's the Cowboys. They get away with stuff like that. We've got to win a couple of Super Bowls before we can get away with stuff like that."
Packers defensive lineman Reggie White said: "This league is not doing anything about illegal chops. We get punched in the face. We're getting penalties that are ridiculous. I've got a scratch under my eyes from getting punched in the face. And you guys are just going to write about how we complain too much. I'm sick of it. I'm ticked off. Don't get me wrong. These guys have a great team. They deserve to be here. But when we come down here, they're going to get the calls."
Jurkovic didn't do much complaining, saying only: "All I know is that I was hurt. It was unfortunate that I couldn't finish the game."
Deion loves his work
You might think that Deion Sanders likes playing for the Cowboys because of his $13 million signing bonus. He said there's more to it than that.
"I enjoy these guys, the companionship, the friendship. I enjoy going to work each day. This means so much to me, the love we have for one another," he said.
A block full of firsts
When Green Bay's Bernard Carter blocked John Jett's first-quarter punt for Dallas, it was a first in a long time for both teams. The last time the Packers blocked a punt was in December 1990. Green Bay never had blocked a kick in 25 postseason games.
The last time Dallas had a punt blocked was in the 1993 Super Bowl. The punter then was Mike Saxon. Jett never had a punt blocked since replacing Saxon.
The last word
Live TV interviews after the game help viewers get a feel for the athletes' emotions, but sometimes they reveal too much.
Speaking in defense of Switzer, whose play-calling has come under criticism, Irvin told a Fox reporter: "Nobody deserves it more than Barry Switzer. He took all of this [expletive]."
Team ......... W ........ L ........ Pct.
Cowboys ........... 30 ....... 18 ....... .625
49ers ............. 21 ....... 12 ....... .636
Redskins .......... 21 ....... 14 ....... .600
Raiders ........... 21 ....... 15 ....... .583
Steelers .......... 19 ....... 12 ....... .613