Danny White officially became Dallas' Crown Prince of Miracles today, pitching touchdown passes of 14 and 23 yards to the King of the Clutch Catch, Drew Pearson, in the final 3 minutes 40 seconds as the Cowboys rallied from a 10-point deficit to defeat the Atlanta Falcons, 30-27, in a pulsating NFC playoff game.
The game-winner was a 23-yard pass with what seemed like 10-second hang time that Pearson caught in front of Cornerback Rolland Lawrence with 42 seconds left. That touchdown catch marked the first time the Cowboys had been ahead all day, and vaulted them into an NFC championship game at 1 p.m. Sunday in Philadelphia against the NFC East rival -- and division champion -- Eagles.
"Yes, we've had some great comebacks with Roger (Staubach)," Pearson said today. "But this is the best one of all, because it's now, today. Nobody on this team ever gave up, and everybody on this team knows Danny White is a special quarterback."
The Falcons knew, too. They were sitting fat and sassy with a 14-point lead midway through the third quarter and a 10-point lead with 6:37 left in the fourth. But the Cowboy defense did not allow them another first down, handing the ball back to White and the offense for still another frantic finish.
And always, Drew Pearson was the man White looked to when he needed yards, and points. In those final two touchdown drives, Pearson caught four passes for 76 yards and scored his touchdowns with Falcon defenders all around.
The points that sent the Falcons to their locker room with tears in their eyes came on a play that saw the home team blitzing from both sides. White dropped back and, off balance, threw the ball high in the air to a point, he said, "I hoped Drew could get to. I didn't really see him. I just knew where he was supposed to be."
"I was in motion on the play," Pearson said, "and I was going to run a post pattern. Actually, I didn't really recognize the blitz, but when I went in motion, I noticed Lawrence was playing close up to the line. I gave him a move to the outside, and then I broke inside and just started looking for the ball.
"When I looked back, I saw Danny didn't have the ball, so I figured it was just heading my way. So I looked up, and there it was. The fact that he lofted it so high was the reason the play worked. It gave me time to make the adjustment I had to make. I also felt the safety coming over, and I was just hoping he (Tom Pridemore) wouldn't get there. He was just a little late."
The Falcons were just a little late on Pearson's first touchdown catch, as well. Trailing, 27-17, Dallas had moved from its 38 to second and one at the Atlanta 14. The Cowboys elected to pass, and White began rolling out to his right, with wonderful protection from his line.
Pearson, meanwhile was in the back of the end zone, waving frantically for White's attention. White then pointed a finger toward Pearson, trying to signal him to go against the grain to the other side of the end zone.
"I had no idea he was pointing at me," Pearson said. "So me following directions the way I do so well, I just stayed there. Danny just zipped it in there. I saw him cock his arm, and I tried to come back to the ball and use my body to shield the ball away from the defender. Maybe him pointing might have helped. I wouldn't be surprised if one of their defenders went to the place he was pointing. I don't know. I just know I scored."
The Cowboys also know they were very fortunate to win, "but sometimes it's better to be lucky than good," Pearson insisted. Today, they were both. i
White was outstanding. He completed 25 of 39 passes for 322 yards and three touchdowns.A fourth, to Butch Johnson, was nullified by an official's call that would have been debated for months to come if the Cowboys had not prevailed.
That play occurred late in the first quarter, with the Falcons holding a 10-0 lead on a 38-yard Tim Mazzetti field goal and a glorious bomb-away touchdown pass from Steve Bartkowski to Alfred Jenkins that covered 60 yards.
On third and 10 from the Falcon 20 Butch Johnson had a step on Falcon cornerback Kenny Johnson. White put the ball in his receiver's chest and he seemed to have the completion for a touchdown. But Kenny Johnson jarred the ball loose and field judge Don Orr ruled no catch. "The ball was stripped from the receiver before he had attained full possession," said the official statement released by the NFL after the game.
Butch Johnson's reaction: "The call was very poor. It stunk. I'll probably get fined for saying this, but they messed up bad. They told me on the field that I didn't have both feet down, but I know I did. I had the ball, I had the touchdown. And it really could have made a big difference if we'd have lost."
But that didn't happen, even with Falcon quarterback Bartkowski throwing for 320 yards and two touchdowns, Jenkins receiving four for 155 yards; even with the Falcons holding Tony Dorsett to 51 yards.
The Cowboys helped their cause by holding Atlanta's dynamic running backs William Andrews and Lynn Cain to 43 yards each. In the fourth quarter, after Dallas had cut the Falcon lead to 27-24 on Pearson's first touchdown, the Falcons were faced with second and four at their 30.
Cain gained one yard on second down and was stopped for no gain on third down on a play that very nearly saw Cowboy end Ed Jones jump offside. Jones did a ballet step to keep from making contact, and as it turned out, he tiptoed right into the hole Cain was supposed to find.
"We'd used that play earlier in the game and got a pretty good gain on it," Atlanta Coach Leeman Bennett said. "But Jones stepped right where he wasn't supposed to be. If he'd stayed where he should have, we'd probably have gotten the first down." Instead, Cain was stopped for no gain, the Falcons punted and White and Pearson went into their miracle routine.
After Pearson's last touchdown catch, a bad snap from center caused the Cowboys to try a pass from holder Charlie Waters for the extra point. It fell incomplete, giving Falcon fans small hope that Bartkowski could drive them within field goal range and send the game into overtime.
Because of a tripping penalty, Atlanta started from its 13 with 42 seconds, left, and Bartkowski was sacked by Harvey Martin for a nine-yard loss on first down. Three plays later, Bartkowski failed to connect with Wallace Francis on fourth down and the Cowboys took over to kill the clock.
"But we are not ashamed," said Francis. "We played well, we're young, it's not over, and we've got a lot of years ahead of us. That was the Super Bowl. The fans will not see another game better than that."
Added Drew Pearson: "It's just a shame one team had to lose a game like that, it really was. I know, because I've been there. I just know I'm real proud to be on this football team, because we never gave up, never. And you have to give Danny White a lot of credit. He came through. Nobody ever doubted he could."