The Dallas Cowboys, humiliated by the Los Angeles Rams on national television two weeks ago, turned the tables today in the National Football Conference wild card playoff game, riddling the Ram defense for 528 yards and a 34-13 victory.
Thus, Coach Ray Malavasi, who led his team to the Super Bowl a year ago, goes home and the Cowboys travel to Atlanta for a 4 p.m. NFC semifinal game against the Falcons next Sunday.
Malavasi, who was awarded a new three-year contract last Sunday, found that this was not the same Cowboy team that lost, 38-14, to the Rams after falling behind, 38-0, either in its demeanor or in its strategy.
Dallas Coach Tom Landry, asked if the rout two weeks ago had given his team added incentive, said "Did you ever hear of the Alamo? You don't forget things like that."
Tony Dorsett ran for 160 yards as the Cowboys gained 338 on the ground, Danny White passed for three touchdowns and James Jones made a mockery of the Rams' special teams.
The big strategic success for the Cowboys was a five-man defensive line, a tactic used by Dallas for the first time in years to help take the pressure off a secondary that had been burned by Vince Ferragamo's three touchdown passes in Anaheim. Today, they had been playing scared until intercepting three Ferragamo passes and allowing him only one touchdown pass.
The Cowboys added reserve tackle Larry Bethea, removed the strong safety on the obvious passing downs, and positioned Randy White over Los Angeles center Rich Saul to get pressure on Ferragamo.
The Rams beat the defense for a touchdown in the second quarter, on a 21-yard pass from Ferragamo, when right cornerback Aaron Mitchell fell down while covering Preston Dennard. That put the Rams ahead, 13-6. The Cowboys caught up by halftime, 13-all, and, in the second half, they outgained the Rams, 337 yards to 85, and outscored them, 21-0.
They scored those 21 points on their first three possessions of the half, with Danny White's passing accounting for all three.
White flipped a short pass to Dorsett, who ran over Ram cornerback Rod Perry at the goal line to give Dallas a 20-13 lead at 9:11 of the third quarter.
Then Mitchell intercepted a pass to set up the next Dallas score. White, anticipating the Ram blitz, found Butch Johnson wide open over the middle on a 35-yard touchdown pass.
Defensive coordinator Ernie Stautner, who was responsible for the five-man rush by defensive linemen without the help of linebackers that allowed them to concentrate on aiding the defensive backs, said, "The Rams hadn't seen us use it before. The Eagles used it back in the late 1940s, the Vikings have a similar defense, and we used ours against the Redskins several years ago before the rules were changed, preventing us from keeping 12 men in our defensive huddle until just before the snap of the ball."
(The Redskins also used a five-man defensive line effectively, too, in a 1972 victory over the Green Bay Packers.)
"We (the Cowboys defense) were embarrassed in Anaheim in that Monday night game. I felt personally embarrased. I want to thank the Los Angeles writers for what they said about us afterward. They thought the flex defense was dead. We played an extremely emotional game today as a result . . . emotional with control. We figured that if we could hold the Rams to 17 points we could win," Stautner said.
The Cowboys savored a major satisfaction in the fourth quarter, when they drove 95 yards against a Los Angeles defense they were not supposed to be able to run against.
In this drive, the Dallas offensive linemen knocked the Rams back from the scrimmage line with such consistency as Dorsett and Robert Newhouse ran the ball that the only time they passed was on the final play. White connected for an 11-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Drew Pearson that accounted for the final touchdown. Rafael Septien kicked four conversions as well as field goals of 28 and 29 yards.
"It was sweet revenge, no question about it, after that loss in Anaheim and them knocking us out of the playoffs last year," said White, finishing his first big season at quarterback as successor to Roger Stauback. "We beat their maximum blitz for all three of our secong-half touchdowns.
"That was a miserable plane ride back from Anaheim, but that was also the beginning of what happened today. By our practice on Wednesday after that Monday game we were a different team. If we keep playing like we did last week against the Eagles and like we did today, nobody can stop us.
"I thought Coach Landry's play-calling was unbelievable . . . the right play at the right time, the line-blocking, the running. The running took a lot of pressure off my passing."
By running for 160 yards in 22 carries, Dorsett topped the club record of 143 by Duane Thomas in 1971. The Cowboys aggregate rusing of 338 yards also was a team record. Dorsett scored twice, on a 12-yard run and one of White's three touchdown passes.
Jewerl Thomas, the Rams' rookie running sensation, was held to 48 yards in 14 attempts, and the Rams were limited to a total of 92.
Kick returner Jones provided the Cowboys good field position early in the game, his longest efforts being a 43-yard punt return and 33-yard kickoff return.
Said Malavasi: "I felt we had them on the ropes early when we got on top, 6-3 (on a one-yard touchdown plunge by Thomas at the end of a 73-yard drive in the first quarter), and 13-6 in the second quarter (after an 80-yard drive capped by Ferragamo's only touchdown pass)."
He got a bit testy when challenged about that and asked why the Cowboys were able to run so well. "If we knew the answer to that, they wouldn't have run against us the way they did," he said, and answer that, in itself, might raise questions in the Los Angeles organization.
"We had a lot of new people on our special teams, due to injuries. No, Dallas didn't do anything differently than when we played them before, except I could sense they were really up for this game. As for their defense, they started putting a lot more pressure on Ferragamo in the second half, and that was a big difference in our game plan."
Ferragamo said, "Their five-man rush was the big difference. We didn't have everything together and they beat us. Knowing you beat Dallas the first time and losing today is kind of scary. We felt we could run on them, but couldn't."