The roles of the coaches were in high profile today after the Dallas Cowboys snatched a victory away from the New England Patriots as Tom Landry dusted off an old playbook and Chuck Fairbanks tried to rationalize his team botching up three field-goal attempts.
Roger Staubach executed with distinction one of the most commonplace trick plays used by National Football League teams this season to turn the game around in favor of the Cowboys for a 17-10 victory. Dallas clinched the NFC East title with a 10-4 record.
The Cowboys are two games ahead of Washington and Philadelphia with two remaining. Even if the Cowboys should lose their remaining two games, they would win the division over either Washington or Philadelphia by virtue of the NFL tie-breaking procedures.
A bit off-target in the first half, when he completed only four of 10 passes, Staubach hit on 11 of 17 in the final 30 minutes, including a flea flicker 40-yard throw to wide receiver Tony Hill for the touchdown that tied the game at 10-all.
The play, similar to the one with which the Redskins beat the Eagles this season, started with Staubach handing off to running back Scott Laidlaw. Laidlaw got near the line of scrimmage, pivoted and lateraled the ball back to Staubach, who then completed the touchdown pass to Hill.
Staubach put up another touchdown in the fourth quarter on a 36-yard throw to tight end Billy Joe DuPree that began to look bigger and bigger as the Patriots began to test the resilience of the Dallas defense.
The Patriots frittered away a 10-3 lead and chances to score 16 points and are left with a 10-4 record, one game ahead of Miami in the AFC East.
Hill said of the pivotal flea flicker pass, "(Coach) Landry called it at the perfect time. Roger (Staubach) laid it up perfectly."
Landry himself was more than normally elated by the success of his strategy, probably because his playcalling was under fire during a Cowboys' slump, even by himself.
"We brought out the flea flicker," he said today, "and that really pumped us up. I think the last time I used that particular set was in the early 1960s (it was 1961). You have to keep it under wraps until the right moment."
Besides messing up three field goal attempts, the Patriots had a 13-yard touchdown run by quarterback Steve Grogan nullified when tight end Russ Francis was charged with being illegally in motion. New England also was penalized once for having 12 men on the field.
Plackicker David Posey had two field goal attempts blocked and missed a 39-yard try.
Fairbanks said, "We were concerned going into the game about the Cowboys' field goal rush simply because of the strength and height of the defenders. But it is hard to really practice against something like this because in practice you don't like to get that physical."
"Pressure on our field goal kicker really hurt us. Sure, when you don't get those points on the board when you have an opportunity, you begin to think you may need them later."
The Patriots will be home next Sunday against Buffalo and finish at Miami in a Monday night game on Dec. 18.
Landry was not completely composed on the sidelines, he admitted. After he was reminded that wide receiver Drew Pearson was blanked without a reception, for the first time in 59 games, the coach said, "When I found out about it at the end, it was too late."
Pearson said, "It upsets me that I'm not able to catch a pass against the New England secondary. They have a bunch of good athletes but I don't consider them a good secondary. I didn't get my number called in the last three quarters. I had two passes to me in the first quarter and I didn't catch either of those."
Linebacker Tom (Hollywood) Henderson said that stories quoting Patriot tight end Francis about how he would do against Henderson (two catches for 34 yards) "definitely got me worked up. I snapped his head back on the first play, didn't I"
"The way I played today against him, I should be selected for the Pro Bowl. The Patriots put their two tight ends on the same side to block me, Don Hasselback and 'Fruss (for frustration?) Rancis,'" Henderson said, deliberately mispronouncing the tight end's name. He also referred to him as "Fuss Pancis."
What did winning the division title mean? "A little more money and two more games to play in cold cities" in Philadelphia next Sunday and then in New York against the Jets.