Dave Stalls was confused. He knew he shouldn't have been on the field. But it was too late.

Stalls, the Dallas Cowboys' big defensive tackle who lost his starting job to John Dutton, was the 12th man on the field during a fourth-down Houston punt today. He got caught and the Oilers got the ball back. They scored on the next play and won the game.

The Cowboys -- known for their heavy reliance on computers -- seem to be having a bit of trouble with their head counts these days. They also were off last Sunday against the Redskins. Films show that when Joe Theismann threw his first touchdown pass, to John McDaniel, Dallas had only 10 men on the field.

"I thought it was a field goal," Stalls, a fourth-year man from Northern Colorado said of today's mixup. "That's all there is to it. I watched and saw (Houston kicker) Toni Fritsch come out on the field. When he went back, I don't know. But he went out on the field. It was just a stupid mistake. I didn't realize it was a mistake until we were lining up. I just prayed I wouldn't see yellow, but then I saw it."

The line of scrimmage was the Dallas 37, which would have been a 54-yard field-goal attempt. Stalls is on the field-goal defense team, but not on the punt return team.

"Some people on the bench yelled punting team and some yelled field goal," Stalls said. "I knew it was me who was wrong when they lined up in punt formation."

There was all sorts of confusion on the Dallas bench as Mike Ditka, the team's coach, tried unsuccessfully to get the right people on the field.

"I don't think the foul-up was the players fault," said cornerback and special -- teamer Benny Barnes. "I heard Ditka yelling punt defenders, yet someone else yelled field goal. I heard someone say later that the coaches upstairs were screaming, but no one had their earphones on.

"It was similar to that Philadelphia thing when we gave them new life twice. I think it's a combination of having new people and having people hurt.

"I know they fine you $200 if we don't get out there on the special team we are supposed to be on, so maybe one had rather be safe than sorry."

Ditka was a no-show after the game and couldn't be questioned about the matter.

Today's game was the Cowboys' first without linebacker Thomas (Hollywood) Henderson, who retired Monday after Coach Tom Landry told him he was going to be put on waivers. Mike Hegman took his place at strongside linebacker and did not do anything to stand out.