In a battle of superstar quarterbacks, Dan Marino had more rust than Troy Aikman.
Playing for the first time in six weeks, Marino tied a career-worst by throwing five interceptions, one of them returned 46 yards for a touchdown by Dexter Coakley as Dallas beat Miami 20-0 Thursday.
"I didn't have the feel in the pocket," said Marino, whose only other five-interception game was 11 years ago. "I was just missing guys because my timing was off."
"We knew we were going to have an awfully hard time moving the ball 70 or 80 yards without making some big plays," said Aikman, himself coming off a two-game layoff while recovering from concussions. "We were hoping to play good and take our shots when we got them."
Dallas remained unbeaten in five home games and moved within a half-game of Washington in the NFC East.
This was the first time the Dolphins (8-3) had been shut out in nearly two years and it spoiled former Cowboys coach Jimmy Johnson's return to Texas Stadium. Miami has lost two of three to fall a half-game behind Indianapolis in the AFC East.
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Johnson was in tears after that game and upset after Miami's loss in Buffalo two weeks ago. This time, he was strangely calm, saying it didn't hurt as much because it wasn't a division game.
"I think Dan was rusty, which is to be expected since he hasn't played in six weeks," Johnson said. "We just weren't as sharp offensively as we needed to be."
Marino was playing for the first time since he left a game in New England Oct. 17 because of a pinched nerve in his neck. The layoff left him with bad aim, little touch and without his usual arm strength.
The result: 14-of-35 for 176 yards and as many interceptions in four quarters as he'd thrown in five previous games.
The first one, by Deion Sanders on a tipped ball, came in the Dallas end zone following Miami's best drive.
Coakley made the second while roaming between Rob Konrad and Yatil Green. The speedy linebacker then followed a convoy of blockers down the left side to easily score Dallas' fifth defensive touchdown this year.
"I don't think Dan saw me buzzing out there," said Coakley, who is generously listed at 5-foot-10. "He just threw it in my hands."
Marino fell apart in the fourth quarter, throwing interceptions on his final three possessions. Coakley and Sanders each had another and rookie Duane Hawthorne got one, too.
"I had never got him before," said Sanders, who made the 43rd and 44th interceptions of his career. "I really wanted one because I felt this might be the last time I have a chance to get him."
Damon Huard, who went 4-1 as a starter while Marino was out, played only the final drive, which ended on downs.
"We thought about him, but I didn't want to do that to Dan," Johnson said. "Dan wanted to play so we decided to go ahead and give him the opportunity to bring us back."
Aikman struggled, too, especially in the first half while Ismail was in the locker room recovering from a mild concussion. He ended up 16-of-29 for 232 yards and he became the 22nd quarterback to surpass 30,000 career passing yards.
Emmitt Smith, playing his second straight game with a broken right hand, had 103 yards on 31 carries.
Although Dallas hurt itself with penalties and struggled on third downs, an unusual special teams breakdown by Miami prevented it from taking control.
Olindo Mare, who had made field goals in a team record-tying 20 straight games and entered the game 29-of-32 this season, missed from 52 and 47 yards and had a 47-yarder blocked.
Cunningham made kicks from 36 and 23 yards, after coming into the game 8-for-17. His unreliability prompted Dallas coach Chan Gailey to go for it on fourth-and-15 from the 35 and fourth-and-16 from the 36, both during the scoreless first half. The Cowboys failed miserably on both attempts.
Before the game, Johnson shook hands and spoke for about 30 seconds with Cowboys owner Jerry Jones, further burying the feud that tore them apart after their second straight Super Bowl victory in 1993.
Johnson was booed and cheered during pregame warmups, then got full-scale jeers when the Dolphins were introduced prior to kickoff.
"It was different for Jimmy Johnson to be here and it was important for our team and fans to come out and get a nice win," Jones said. "Yes, I am happy."
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