The 1981 Dallas Cowboys were in a habit of not playing their best football against lesser opponents. The Cowboys were 4-0 when they went up against the 1-3 St. Louis Cardinals and lost 20-17. They were 8-2 when they lost to the 4-6 Lions, 27-24. Then on Thanksgiving they were 9-3 and just got by the 3-9 Bears, 10-9.
When week 14 came along the Cowboys were 10-3 and had to travel to Memorial Stadium in Baltimore to take on the 1-12 Colts. The Colts were on a 12 game losing streak and the last thing the Cowboys wanted was to continue struggling especially with the playoffs coming up.
The Cowboys caught a break as the Colts started quarterback David Humm in place of injured Bert Jones. Humm was in his 7th season and this would be his first NFL start. On the Colts first play of the game Humm tried a screen pass to his right, but Ed Jones got his hands on the ball. He deflected the ball right to linebacker Bob Bruenig’s hands and the Cowboys took over inside the 20 yard line.
Four plays later the Cowboys took an early 7-0 lead when Ron Springs scored from a yard out. On the third play of the drive backup quarterback Glenn Carano playing in place of Danny White who had injured ribs, found Drew Pearson as he leaped for the reception at the Colts one yard line.
The Cowboys defense held the Colts on their second possession. The Colts could only manage a 26 yard punt and the Cowboys took over again in Colts territory at the 43 yard line. The offense got to the 25 yard line before the drive stalled and Rafael Septien came on to kick a 42 yard field goal to make the score 10-0. Septien’s field goal made him the Cowboys All-Time leader with 70.
With the first quarter only half over the Cowboys for the third time got the ball in Colts territory at the 37 yard line. By the time the drive ended Ron Springs had his second rushing touchdown of the quarter and the Cowboys took a 17-0 lead on the 1-12 Colts.
With the Cowboys dominating in the first quarter and the Colts looking for their first down, the Colts caught the Cowboys sleeping. With about a minute left in the quarter Colts running back Curtis Dickey got into the Cowboys secondary and raced untouched for a 67 yard touchdown. The brief moment of excitement for the Colts ended when their kicker, Mike Wood missed the extra point attempt. At the end of the first quarter the Cowboys led 17-6.
As the second quarter started Coach Tom Landry was not taking any chances that the Colts were gaining any confidence off the Dickey touchdown. He called for an option pass from Drew Pearson to Tony Hill that gained 59 yards and put the Cowboys at the Colts nine yard line. Ron Springs scored his third touchdown of the game when Glenn Carano connected with him from two yards out to make the score 24-6. Septien added another field goal before halftime and the Cowboys had a 27-6 lead at cold and windy Memorial Stadium.
The third quarter was quiet except for another Curtis Dickey touchdown to make the score 27-13 entering the fourth quarter. Dickey was the only bright spot for the Colts as he ran through the Cowboys defense for 130 yards and two touchdowns in the game.
Danny White who was still punting for the Cowboys even though he was not playing quarterback ran a fake punt in the fourth quarter. He gained 13 yards to keep the drive alive. The drive ended at the Colts 14 yard line and Septien kicked his third field goal of the game. The Cowboys increased their lead to 30-13. With the game all but over the Cowboys added one more score when backup running back James Jones broke loose for a 59 yard touchdown run. The Cowboys beat the Colts 37-13 to improve their record to 11-3. They remained at the top of the NFC East as they headed back home for an important division game against the Eagles the following week.
Tony Dorsett led the Cowboys offense with 175 yards rushing on 30 carries. He went over the 6,000 yard mark in only his fifth season. His 175 yards also put him at 1,506 yards rushing for the season, which was nine yards ahead of the Saints rookie running back George Rodgers.
“I always feel sorry for them (the Colts) because I’ve been there before,” Tom Landry said. “They just couldn’t do anything right. They do things, like go offside, where there is no explanation.”
“It’s hard when you’re up 27-6 to get rolling,” said Landry. “I wanted to get this game out of the way and get on with the business of next week.”
The box score from the game can be seen here.