It was a cold, but not too cold Sunday afternoon on December 6, 1992 at Mile High Stadium in Denver. Dallas came into the game with an 11-2 record looking to clinch a spot in the NFC playoffs for the second straight season. They were well rested after having their usual time off after the Thanksgiving Day game where they beat the NY Giants 30-3. The Denver Broncos came into the game with a 7-6 record and playing without injured John Elway.
The Cowboys would jump out to a quick 14-0 lead on the Broncos after quarterback Tommy Maddox thew interceptions on his first two passes of the game. Troy Aikman would take advantage of the two turnovers by connecting with Michael Irvin on touchdown passes of 6 and 4 yards.
The Broncos would strike back with a touchdown pass from Tommy Maddox to Vance Johnson to cut the Dallas lead to 14-7 in the first quarter. With Maddox looking to tie the game in the second quarter he would throw his second touchdown pass, this one to Mark Jackson, but the extra point failed. Making the score 14-13. Dallas would close out the first half with a Lin Elliott FG and a 17-13 lead.
The interesting thing about this game would be how Denver head coach Dan Reeves would handle his quarterback position. With John Elway not playing, Reeves decided to alternate Tommy Maddox and Shawn Moore all afternoon. They would be some what effective during the game as both would combine for 208 yards passing and four touchdowns, but it would be Maddox who threw 4 interceptions during the game.
Dallas would hold the lead after three quarters 24-20. They took a 24-13 lead when Aikman tossed his third touchdown pass of the game to Jay Novacek. Denver answered with Maddox’s third touchdown pass of his own. This time to Reggie Rivers to get within four points of Dallas going into the fourth quarter.
With 9:05 to play in the game, Dan Reeves reached into his trick plays and came up with a play that would give Denver their first lead of the game. Looking at a third and 11 from their own 19 yard line, Maddox took the snap and lofted a swing pass to free agent rookie receiver Arthur Marshall who was lined up in the backfield. Marshall quickly fired a 50 yard strike to Cedric Tillman who than ran untouched for the go ahead touchdown on an 81 yard touchdown pass. Denver took the lead 27-24.
Dan Reeves had a feeling that the Dallas defense would bit on the play and come up to stop the run. Which was the case when cornerback Kevin Smith broke towards Marshall as he caught the swing pass.
“Arthur was a quarterback in high school,” said Reeves.
“We saw from our pre-season game (at Dallas) that that pass might be possible, based on how fast they come up for the run.”
Now it would be up to the Dallas offense to get them back in the game. They were down by three, in a hostile stadium, trying to recover from a trick play and a playoff berth at stake.
Troy Aikman led the Cowboys offense on an 11 play, 77 yard drive. During the drive Aikman would connect with Jay Novacek on three straight plays that covered 50 yards which brought them to the Denver 21. With a 1st and 10 from the Denver 21, Aikman was sacked by Denver defensive lineman Simon Fletcher and fumbled the ball. Both Aikman and Fletcher’s teammate Greg Kragen had a shot to recover the fumble, but it was Aikman who was able to pull the ball into his chest. A loss fumble at that point would have most likely lost the game for the Cowboys.
“It was real close,” admitted Aikman. “He probably had as good an opportunity at it as I did.”
Two plays later Aikman completed a huge third down pass to Michael Irvin to set up Emmitt Smith. With only 2:47 left to play Emmitt Smith took the handoff from Aikman and scored to take a 31-27 lead.
Cornerback Kenny Gant (aka, The Shark), ended the game with the Cowboys fourth interception at midfield on 4th and 10.
“To be able to drive the length of the field, to score and put us back ahead, that’s a tremendous job by Troy Aikman and our offense,” said coach Jimmy Johnson, who was more excited to have escaped with a win than to have officially enrolled in the post-season.
“We expected to be in the playoffs prior to the season and during the season, so that expectation never changed,” he said.
“We were fortunate old No. 7 wasn’t playing today,” said Aikman, referring to Denver’s injured quarterback John Elway.
“This is a hell of a wakeup call for us at this point in the season,” said defensive end Charles Haley, who doubled his season total with two sacks. “One thing we learned today is that having a two-touchdown lead early doesn’t mean the game is over. You can’t believe you’re going to take the offense out of the game that quickly.”
With the victory over the Denver Broncos the Cowboys earned a spot in the NFC playoffs in 1992. The following week would be a chance to lock down the NFC East division title against the defending champion Redskins in RFK Stadium. But the Redskins would not allow that in their building as they beat the Cowboys 20-17.
You can see the box score for the game here…