"Texas 70" is not a highway hissing through the flatlands of North Dallas, that high-water plow where the Cowboys do business. Monday night, "Texas 70" proved to be the low road the Cowboys were forced to take on their way out of town and out of the NFL playoff picture.

That was the play Dolphins quarterback Dan Marino called to burn the Cowboys' hopes for a spot in the NFC wild card game and send them home tail-tucked for the winter. It was also the play that produced two big scoring passes in a meager span of 1 minute 40 seconds, both to wide receiver Mark Clayton. Marino and Clayton together broke a 21-21 tie with 51 seconds left in what folks here are calling the best Monday night game ever. The final score was 28-21.

"Those plays, they were both the same," Marino said after the game. "Texas 70 . . . . On the first one (for the 21-14 lead), three guys were coming and Mark and I both read it. He went deep and I threw it high."

On the second, Cowboys cornerback Ron Fellows and free safety Michael Downs lost their footing on the disheveled turf. That allowed Clayton to pull in the ball without even a hand pat from the Cowboys and rush into wide open pasture. The touchdown, his third of the night, broke the NFL touchdown reception record of 17 formerly held by Don Hutson (Green Bay, 1942), Elroy Hirsch (Los Angeles Rams, 1951) and Bill Groman (Houston, 1961).

Downs said, "The field was not in real good shape. We were in man-to-man coverage, with help in the middle. I slipped and Ron, who was covering Clayton, slipped, too, and he just slid through everybody."

On the 39-yard touchdown pass play to Clayton, Fellows moved in to slap down the ball with no one behind him for support. "It was a do-or-die type situation," he said. "If you had put a gun to my head, I guess I died."

Tony Dorsett, the Cowboys' star running back, gained only 58 yards on 19 carries. He had just two 100-yard games this season, but said he was proud of his and the Cowboys' effort during a year marked with adversity.

"There were a lot of big plays and they made the last one the biggest of them all," he said. "That one killed it for us. It was the straw that broke the camel's back and knocked us out of the playoff picture . . . ."

Marino played brilliantly, particulary in the second half. His season-total 5,084 yards passing broke the record of 4,802 by San Diego's Dan Fouts (1981). He also finished the season with 362 completions, breaking Fouts' record of 360.

Dallas quarterback Danny White played with a level of confidence and precision that had eluded him much of the year. He was good on 20 of 34 passing attempts for 246 yards and produced a 66-yard scoring throw -- with the help of a tipped ball -- to Tony Hill 1:47 left. The touchdown tied the score at 21.

"If I could give you tears and disappointment at the same time," White said, "you'd know just how I feel. It really hurts . . . ."

The Cowboys finished the season 9-7, the worst since going 8-6 in 1974. The seven losses are the most in 18 years. On top of that, it is the only the second time in 20 years that the Cowboys find themselves out of the playoffs.

"It was a hard way to lose a game and end the season," Coach Tom Landry said. "It was a challenging season, though. That's what football's all about. You don't sit back and win them all. But you always give it your best."