The defense has often been the caboose on the Dallas Cowboys' victory train.
Except for Deion Sanders, the defensive players are usually overshadowed by the offensive stars, and the Cowboys have been willing to lose defensive players in free agency and plug in new ones.
Yet the Cowboys showed Monday night that their defense can win a critical game on a night when the Green Bay Packers held their offense without a touchdown.
It didn't matter because the Packers' offense, averaging 28.8 points, was shut out until the 58th minute, when the Cowboys already had an 18-0 lead en route to a 21-6 victory.
Green Bay finally got a touchdown, but the six points were the fewest the Packers have scored since 1992 and the first time they've been out of double figures since 1994.
"There was so much hype about [Brett] Favre and the Packer offense that we wanted to prove that we could go out and stop anybody," said Kevin Smith, who's the team's "other" cornerback besides Sanders.
"We pretty much dominated the game," said defensive lineman Tony Casillas, who left the team after the 1993 season and returned this year.
The key for the Packers was double-teaming tight end Keith Jackson with a linebacker (Darrin Smith) and a safety (Darren Woodson), keeping Favre in the pocket by having their ends play contain and stopping the screen pass to running back Edgar Bennett.
The Cowboys were helped because the Packers have lost three key members of their receiving corps -- Robert Brooks, Antonio Freeman and Mark Chmura -- and their replacements weren't effective.
Although Jackson caught seven passes, he wasn't able to break a big play, and Green Bay's four wide receivers combined for seven receptions.
Unless the Packers maintain their one-game lead over the Cowboys, they could be back in Dallas in the playoffs for a fourth straight year.
"Everybody says, 'Let's get them in Green Bay.' I don't know what would happen," Favre said.
Leave it to Barry Switzer
Cowboys coach Barry Switzer gave the TV fans who stayed to the end to watch the dull victory over the Packers something to talk about: He called timeout with 24 seconds left and gave Chris Boniol a chance to kick a league-record-tying seventh field goal.
At least Switzer had a better reason than San Francisco 49ers coach George Seifert, who covered the spread with a meaningless touchdown against the Ravens on Sunday because he wanted to give his team a "tonic." But the Packers were enraged, and defensive lineman Reggie White walked toward the Dallas sideline and gestured angrily.
Unlike the 49ers, the Cowboys had already covered the spread, but Switzer said, "I wouldn't deny my son, your son or anybody else's son a chance to go for an NFL record."
It didn't help Switzer's strained relationship with quarterback Troy Aikman. Switzer hugged Aikman a week ago, but Aikman wasn't happy with the decision. He tried to wave the field-goal team off the field and wouldn't talk about the decision afterward.
"I respect Aikman for doing that," Green Bay's Sean Jones said.
Even though NFL coaches tend to be conservative, three of them tried fake punts Sunday, and two of them made it.
The big winner was the Miami Dolphins' Jimmy Johnson, who faked a punt on fourth-and-nine from the Miami 32 on the first play of the fourth quarter with the Dolphins trailing, 17-13. The up back, Larry Izzo, took the snap and ran 26 yards. It helped Miami rally to beat Houston, 23-20.
"If we don't make it, we're in deep trouble. But nothing Coach Johnson does surprises me. That's just a gutsy call on his part," Izzo said.
Bruce Coslet of Cincinnati tried it on fourth-and-one on the Bengals' second series. Eric Bieniemy took a direct snap and went 18 yards against the Buffalo Bills. But the Bengals later had to punt and were beaten by Buffalo, 31-17.
But the idea backfired on Patriots coach Bill Parcells when he did it on fourth-and-one at his 32 on the first drive against the Denver Broncos. Punter Tom Tupa threw a pass to Tedy Bruschi, but he dropped the ball after being hit.
The Broncos scored in five plays and went on to win 34-8.
The game was so one-sided that it may have not made any difference, but Parcells was the victim of a lot of second guessing for turning momentum away from the Patriots.
Nobody second-guessed Johnson's call when he made it.
Quarterback John Friesz is always getting hurt at the worst possible time.
He won the San Diego Chargers' job at the end of the 1991 season, only to suffer a knee injury during the exhibition season in 1992 that sidelined him for the year. The Chargers traded for Stan Humphries, and he won the job, so Friesz moved on to Washington in 1994 and Seattle in 1995.
Friesz beat out Rick Mirer for the Seahawks' job and just signed a two-year, $4.5 million deal last week before getting sidelined Sunday for the rest of the season with a broken leg.
Now, Mirer has a chance to win the job back, but even he doesn't expect that to happen; he anticipates being traded.
"Yes, I think that's pretty clear," he said.
Bills come due
The Bills have reeled off three straight victories, including 31-17 over Cincinnati on Sunday, and they're once again talking Super Bowl.
"There's not one team in this league that has had guys go to four straight Super Bowls," said wide receiver Andre Reed. "We've had nails in our coffin for the last who knows how many years. It always seems like we're still breathing. We have to struggle, scratch and fight to win games. But we win them."
With the Jets, Colts, Seahawks, Dolphins and Chiefs left, they could run the table even though the middle three games are on the road. The NFL traditionally gives the Bills one December home game because of the weather. The Bills usually make up for it by playing host to January playoff games.
Seattle cornerback Selwyn Jones lost both of his shoes chasing down Barry Sanders of the Detroit Lions in the third quarter. He pushed him out of bounds at the Seattle 6 after a 40-yard gain despite the loss of the shoes. Let's hope the NFL doesn't fine him for being out of uniform. Indianapolis intercepted three passes in its first 10 games, but stole four thrown by the New York Jets' Frank Reich. Boomer Esiason's two touchdown throws moved him ahead of Jim Kelly on the all-time list, 229-228.
Pub Date: 11/20/96