Some of the Minnesota Vikings claimed they barely knew that Troy Aikman and Emmitt Smith were both injured and out of the game. Instead, they took credit for the 27 straight points that gave them a 27-17 win over the Cowboys on Monday night.
But with due respect to the Vikings, this was all about Dallas' stars or the lack of them. Michael Irvin, the third of the Cowboys' offensive triplets, also sat out his fourth straight game because of a neck injury.
"Injuries are part of the National Football League and that's just the way it is," Minnesota coach Dennis Green said. "I think it's unfortunate that they had injuries, but it was that kind of game. A very physical game. We're not big so we have to hit hard."
Aikman suffered a mild concussion and is expected to miss next week's game against Green Bay. Smith broke his right hand and is expected to be out three weeks.
Dallas dominated the first half as Smith scored twice within 18 seconds on runs of 63 and 24 yards. Smith gained 140 yards on 13 carries in just 21 minutes as the Cowboys ran up a 17-0 lead and held Minnesota without a pass completion until 5:30 was left in the half.
Aikman got the sixth concussion of his 11-year career after getting sacked on the first series of the second half. After he was replaced by by Jason Garrett, the Vikings took over.
Green, whose Vikings (5-4) won their third straight since George replaced Randall Cunningham as the starting quarterback, wasn't sure the injuries were the key.
"If we had played on offense in the second half like we did in the first, we wouldn't have won," he said. "I don't think it had anything to do with the two guys out for them."
Dallas (4-4) lost for the third time in its last four starts and fell to third in the NFC East, a game behind Washington and the New York Giants.
Gary Anderson kicked two field goals to start the second-half rally, then George completed another 4-yard TD pass for the go-ahead score with 1:22 gone in the final quarter. The pass was to Cris Carter, who caught it despite a premature fireworks blast to celebrate the score that went off just as the ball left George's hand.
"It sure shocked me," George said. "Cris had great concentration to make the catch. It could have cost us the touchdown."
"I heard it," Carter said.
What did he think?
"Prophetic," he replied.
George then clinched it with 5:10 left, throwing a 47-yard TD pass to Moss, his third TD pass of the night.
Another of Dallas' superstars, Deion Sanders, had a role in the go-ahead touchdown.
He was called for illegal contact during the nine-play, 61-yard drive that led to the touchdown, negating an interception by teammate George Teague on the other side of the field.
This was supposed to be a duel between Sanders and Moss, two of the NFL's best pure athletes.
But they rarely were on the same side of the field. Moss had six catches for 91 yards and Carter finished with nine catches for 116 yards while Moss was being double-covered. When Moss finally broke loose for the long score, he was being covered by Charlie Williams.
The game began with mistakes, penalties and missed field goals two by Dallas' Richie Cunningham and one by the Anderson until Cunningham hit a 39-yarder with 11:21 left in the second quarter. Minnesota had nine penalties for 67 yards in the first hlf alone.
Then, with 6:21 left in the second quarter, Smith broke loose.
With a first down at his own 37, he broke through over right tackle, cut right and outran the Vikings defense until rookie cornerback Kenny Wright jumped him behind at the 10. Rather than shrug him off, Smith simply carried Wright to the end zone. But in the process of trying to push off Wright, Smith apprently broke his hand.
"I don't know how he hurt his hand," Wright said. "Maybe he did it grabbing my face mask."
On the ensuing kickoff, Minnesota's David Palmer was stripped by Dat Nguyen, and Williams recovered. On the next play, Smith who broke his hand on the first scoring run went over left tackle, weaving through the defense for his second TD in 18 seconds.
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