By following the script that has made them successful in the past, the Dallas Cowboys today climbed into a first-place tie with Philadelphia in the NFC Eastern Division.
The Cowboys, who scored two touchdowns in the last five minutes to beat Miami a week ago, rallied for two touchdowns in the fourth quarter today and defeated the Eagles, 17-14. A Veterans Stadium record crowd of 72,111 watched.
Two fumbles and an interception deep in Philadelphia territory in the first half frustrated the Cowboys. And even with their fourth-quarter comeback, they were headed for overtime if Tony Franklin had made a 34-yard field goal with 1:51 to play.
"I must be the most popular man in Dallas right now," Franklin managed to say after mumbling that he had no excuse, that the center's snap and the hold were perfect. The barefooted-kicking Texan had made 14 of 19 tries this season and had missed only one of 10 inside 40 yards.
The Eagles, who saw quarterback Ron Jaworski go out with a rib injury late in the game, and Dallas now have 7-2 records. They meet again Dec. 13 in Texas Stadium.
A stunning 85-yard touchdown pass from Jaworski to Harold Carmichael late in the third quarter for a 14-3 Eagle lead might have taken the heart out of a lot of teams, but it only spurred on the Cowboys.
"I think we play our best football when we get behind," said Danny White, who completed 13 of 24 passes for 203 yards and one touchdown. "We knew all day we could score if we stopped making mistakes."
The winning touchdown came on a powerful individual effort by Tony Dorsett. He carried several defenders with him into the end zone at the end of a nine-yard burst off left tackle with 7:24 remaining in the bruising contest.
Dorsett's touchdown capped a five-play, 39-yard drive set up by two sacks and a l0-yard penalty that pushed the Eagles back to the Philadelphia three-yard line.
"That last run was quite gratifying for me, but all in all, I don't have a lot to be proud of," said Dorsett. He was limited to 78 yards on 20 carries (3.9 average) and was involved in two injurious turnovers.
"I was determined that time to push the ball across the goal line," the 185-pound tailback continued. "We made it tough for ourselves in the first half, but we knew we could move the ball. Then after Harold went 85 yards, we knew we had to score."
Carmichael maneuvered into one-on-one coverage by the Cowboys' often picked-on rookie cornerback Everson Walls, grabbed the ball at about the 40 and raced untouched for the second Eagle touchdown with 5:20 remaining in the third period.
"We'd been trying to get that play all game," said the 6-foot-8 receiver, who had five receptions for 151 yards. "Our problem was that we didn't have good field position most of the time."
The long play seemed to set off an alarm in the Cowboys' offense, a wake-up call that time was running out and they could go home trailing the Eagles by two games with seven to play if they didn't arouse themselves quickly.
As if by remote control, the offense started clicking. Moving methodically on the running of Dorsett and Ron Springs, plus an occasional pass by White, the Cowboys marched 75 yards in 10 plays.
The drive was flawless until the last 17 yards came by improvisation. White was forced to scramble out of the shotgun formation. As he ran to his right, he tossed a floater that reserve tight end Doug Cosbie ran under at the goal line.
"It was a broken play," White admitted. "I saw Cosbie and (Tony) Hill near the sidelines and just threw it high, over the defenders. Doug saw it coming, cut in and made the catch.
"After that I knew we could score again if the defense could just get us the ball back," the quarterback continued. "They really did a great job of pinning the Eagles back, which gave us good field position."
Linebacker D.D. Lewis made the first big play, blitzing to toss Jaworski for a six-yard loss back to the four on first down. Jaworski came back with a 15-yard completion to Charlie Smith, however, and after Wilbert Montgomery (67 yards in 15 carries) made nine yards, the Eagles seemed out of trouble. Then a holding penalty and a 13-yard sack by Too Tall Jones pushed them back to their three and brought on Max Runager's punt, 36 yards.
Dorsett picked up 15 on a first-down sweep, Springs hit the left side for five yards, Dorsett got four and Robert Newhouse gained six before Dorsett ran it in.
The Eagles had plenty of time to retaliate, but after gaining 18 yards in five plays, Jaworski was blind-sided by a blitzing Dennis Thurman and went down in a heap. The official then dropped his flag, citing the defender for spearing with his helmet.
"If you have a chance to hit somebody you've got to hit 'em," four-year veteran Thurman said. "The official didn't call it right away. I guess they'll send a film to the league office and if someone up there thinks it was a cheap shot or a late hit, I guess I'll have to pay for it, but it wasn't intentional."
Jaworski stayed in the training room until the reporters left the dressing area. The early reports said he had bruised ribs; he will be examined further Monday.
Joe Pisarcik replaced Jaworski and guided the Eagles from a first down at their 43 to the Dallas 16. After a run by Montgomery for no gain, two passes went incomplete before Franklin's three-point attempt.
"I'd say we got beat by a better football team," said Coach Dick Vermeil of the Eagles.