ATLANTA, DEC. 30 -- Mike Rozier rushed a career-high 155 yards and Atlanta's defense held Dallas to 47 yards on the ground today, postponing the Cowboys' hopes of winning the last NFC wild-card playoff spot for one more day.
Atlanta's 26-7 drubbing of Dallas before 50,097 at Fulton County Stadium leaves the door open for New Orleans to steal next week's first-round playoff meeting with NFC Central Division champion Chicago from the Cowboys. To do so, the Saints (7-8) must defeat the Los Angeles Rams. If the Saints lose, Dallas (7-9) would advance to Chicago by virtue of its 17-13 victory over the Saints on Dec. 2.
Dallas could have sewn up the playoff spot outright today but never got untracked, netting 151 yards on offense and yielding three big plays -- one on defense, one on offense and one on special teams.
After the game, Atlanta Coach Jerry Glanville smirked over the Cowboys' celebration plans.
"We heard they had five cases of champagne on ice, so we bought our own bottle, which cost us $2.29," said Glanville, who finished his first season as Falcons head coach with a 5-11 record.
"After this game, we declare ourselves state champs in the state of Texas," said Glanville. Atlanta beat the Houston Oilers, 47-27, to open the season.
Atlanta, which defeated the Los Angeles Rams, 20-13, last week, had not won two games in a row since 1988. The Falcons' blitzing defense held Emmitt Smith, the NFL's fourth-leading rusher, to 34 yards on 16 carries and created problems all day for Cowboys quarterback Babe Laufenberg, the former Redskin.
Laufenberg, pressed into action last week when quarterback Troy Aikman separated a shoulder against Philadelphia, was making his first start since 1988, when he was with San Diego. The Falcons pressured him all day, forcing two interceptions.
"They mauled us, flat out," said Laufenberg, who completed 10 of 24 passes for 129 yards and suffered a nastily bruised left arm in the first half. "It's a tough defense to go against, and we weren't at our best, mentally or physically."
The Falcons' backup quarterback, Hugh Millen (10 of 15 for 81 yards, two fumbles), started in place of injured Scott Campbell. Campbell had been subbing for injured Chris Miller. Millen was supported by the relentless Atlanta defense, led by safety Scott Case (nine tackles, two sacks) and linebacker Jessie Tuggle (six tackles).
Neither team's offense could get started, partly because of a slippery turf caused by two days of drizzle. Atlanta managed to put together a 14-play, 79-yard scoring drive late in the first half. Millen accounted for more than half his total passing yards during the series, hitting wide receiver Andre Rison twice for gains of 10 and 21 yards and Floyd Dixon once for a pickup of 16. Running back Tracy Johnson scored from the one with 27 seconds left in the second quarter to give Atlanta a 7-0 halftime lead.
Dallas made its first two critical errors within minutes at the start of the second half. Falcon Keith Jones took the opening kickoff and broke five tackles en route to a 76-yard touchdown return, putting Atlanta up, 14-0.
Dallas surrendered the ball quickly after Jones's score. Rozier's next carry was a 67-yard run to the Cowboys 1-yard line. But the Falcons failed to score when Rozier was stopped on fourth and goal by linebacker Eugene Lockhart..
When Dallas got the ball back, Smith took the handoff and was immediately stopped by Atlanta defensive end Tim Green in the end zone for a safety.
Dallas's frustrating afternoon was most apparent in the fourth period. With 8:26 left, cornerback Deion Sanders reached up with one hand to pick off a pass intended for Kelvin Martin and high-stepped his way 61 yards for a score. The play boosted Atlanta's lead to 26-0, but the Falcons weren't done. On Dallas's next possession, Case came blitzing in not once but twice in a row to drop Laufenberg for a total of 17 yards.
"Today, we played defense the way we like to and want to," said Case. "We were aggressive and their quarterback never knew who was coming from where. We're sending out a little message that we're a team to look for next year."