Cowboys 31, Chiefs 28
With their season on the verge of slipping away from them, the Dallas Cowboys were just good enough and just lucky enough in the furious final minutes Sunday at Texas Stadium to stay in the thick of the NFC playoff chase by beating the Kansas City Chiefs, 31-28.
Quarterback Drew Bledsoe threw a one-yard touchdown pass to tight end Dan Campbell with 22 seconds remaining as the Cowboys (8-5) ended a two-game losing streak and remained within a game of the first-place New York Giants in the NFC East. The Cowboys had their winning drive extended by a defensive holding penalty on the Chiefs on a fourth-down incompletion in the final minute, then watched Kansas City kicker Lawrence Tynes push a 41-yard field goal attempt wide right as time expired.
"It was a test and a challenge for me and for us to bounce back from some games where we didn't play very well," said Bledsoe, who threw for 332 yards and three touchdowns. "There was no doubt this one was vitally important for us, both from the standpoint of our record and the psyche of the team."
On a tense day full of lead changes and plot twists, the Chiefs (8-5) were left agonizing over a missed opportunity to gain ground in the AFC wild-card race. Tailback Larry Johnson ran for 143 yards -- his sixth straight 100-yard rushing game, a team record -- and three touchdowns, and Kansas City grabbed a 28-24 lead when quarterback Trent Green connected with wide receiver Eddie Kennison for a 47-yard touchdown with 3 minutes 55 seconds left.
Bledsoe directed the Cowboys back down the field, but the Chiefs thought they had gotten a decisive defensive stop when Bledsoe's pass for tight end Jason Witten on a fourth-and-goal play from the Kansas City 6-yard line fell incomplete with 42 seconds to go. The Chiefs, though, were called for holding Witten, giving the Cowboys a first down at the 3. After tailback Julius Jones ran for two yards and the Chiefs called a timeout, Bledsoe flipped a pass to the open Campbell on second down following a play-action fake.
The Chiefs got the ball at their 28 with 16 seconds to go, and somehow maneuvered into position for Tynes to have a chance to send the game into overtime. Green got completions of 14 yards to Samie Parker and 34 yards to fellow wideout Dante Hall, and Tynes trotted on the field after a timeout with two seconds remaining. But a low snap disrupted his timing, and he sent the kick wide.
"I was just sick to my stomach," Green said. "Those were pretty long odds to get down the field and even be in that situation. It's frustrating. But it's not Lawrence's fault. It's not the field goal unit's fault. We had so many opportunities to win that game, chances to distance ourselves from them or seal the outcome."
The Cowboys rebounded from defeats to the Denver Broncos on Thanksgiving and to the Giants last weekend in a showdown for first place. Coach Bill Parcells said he had told his players at midweek that he was going to open up the offense because he sensed the Cowboys would have to pile up some points to win. Wide receiver Terry Glenn was the prime beneficiary, catching a 71-yard touchdown pass from Bledsoe on a second-quarter flea-flicker and producing his first rushing touchdown in the NFL on an end-around early in the fourth quarter.
"That's a good team we beat today," Parcells said. "It really is . . . . I think we've been a pretty solid defensive team. I knew we'd have problems today, and we did. Our offense knew they were going to have to do something if we were going to win the game."
The Chiefs jumped in front on their second drive of the game. Kennison got open on a crossing pattern and hauled in a pass from Green for a 22-yard gain and a first down at the Dallas 28. Green turned a near sack into a 12-yard completion to Parker on a third-and-five play, and Johnson dashed into the end zone untouched from the 11 on a sweep around the left side.
The Cowboys settled down and crafted a long drive that took up much of the second quarter. But they managed only a 34-yard field goal by Billy Cundiff that pulled them within 7-3, and the Chiefs responded with another touchdown run by Johnson. Tight end Tony Gonzalez eluded a tackle attempt by Dallas safety Roy Williams for a 39-yard catch and run, and Johnson plowed into the end zone from the 1.
The Cowboys didn't surrender. Glenn raced past cornerback Patrick Surtain and safety Greg Wesley as they inched forward to try to stop Dallas tailback Marion Barber on what appeared to be a second-and-seven running play. Barber turned and flipped the ball back to Bledsoe, who delivered an on-target throw to Glenn for the touchdown.
Green took the Chiefs right back down the field, and they had a first down at the Dallas 9 after a nine-yard run by Johnson. But on a second-down play, Green was sacked by linebacker Scott Fujita and lost the ball. Rookie defensive end Marcus Spears scooped up the fumble and plodded down the sideline with nothing but open field in front of him. He ran out of steam, however, and was pushed out of bounds by Chiefs guard Will Shields, a 13-year veteran, at the Kansas City 26. The Cowboys still capitalized, as Bledsoe zipped a 26-yard touchdown pass to Witten on third and 10.
Johnson, again, had the answer for the Chiefs, with runs of 26 and 21 yards on Kansas City's opening possession of the second half. The 21-yarder was his third touchdown of the day and put the Chiefs back in front, 21-17.
The Cowboys went back to Glenn, and he delivered. His 24-yard reception on third and seven kept a Dallas drive going, and he took a handoff from Bledsoe and weaved his way into the end zone on a third-and-one play from the Kansas City 6.