Cowboys 27, 49ers 21

Monday, December 31st 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

IRVING, Texas (AP) _ A new set of Triplets put a crimp in San Francisco's postseason plans.

The Dallas Cowboys got superb games from Quincy Carter, Joey Galloway and Emmitt Smith to beat the 49ers 27-21 Sunday.

The 49ers (11-4), already assured of a wild card, are likely going on the road for the first round of the playoffs, against either Green Bay or Chicago _ whichever doesn't win the NFC Central. The only way San Francisco gets to stay home is if it wins and the Packers lose.

``We haven't broke out the thermos yet, but maybe we should start thinking about it,'' 49ers coach Steve Mariucci said.

The Cowboys (5-10) can only wish they were talking about the playoffs.

But San Francisco was in a similar situation when it came to Texas Stadium last year and won 41-24, with Terrell Owens punctuating two touchdowns with celebrations on Dallas' midfield logo. The 49ers were in a 1-14 skid going into that game and returned having won 17 of 27.

Now, the Cowboys are hoping this victory will be their launching pad.

``This was our playoff game,'' said safety Darren Woodson, who along with Smith are the only holdovers from the championship years. ``It was a game we had to win to have some confidence going into the offseason.''

Dallas coach Dave Campo said this was a huge win ``for our psyche, for what we're going to carry from this year.''

The Cowboys, who had lost six of seven to the 49ers, hadn't scored more than 24 points all season.

But with Carter throwing for 241 yards, easily the most of his rookie season, and Galloway catching six passes for a career-high 146 yards, Smith had the room to run for 126 yards.

The formula was reminiscent of the glory days of Smith, Troy Aikman and Michael Irvin. The Cowboys also converted 11 of 17 third downs, didn't have a turnover, held the ball 15 minutes longer than the 49ers and took control by scoring two touchdowns and a field goal on their first three drives of the second half.

``I'm not surprised,'' Smith said. ``I felt all along if we can be as balanced as we were today, with our defense playing the way it is, we'd probably win a lot of games.''

Dallas' defense, allowing the second-fewest yards in the NFL, limited San Francisco to 285 yards. The NFL's second-best running game was held to a season-low 56 yards rushing.

The 49ers gained only two first downs while Dallas scored 17 points on three drives.

San Francisco reached the 5 on its next series, but Jeff Garcia threw four straight incompletions _ including one knocked from Owens by safety George Teague, who was ejected from last year's game for tackling Owens after the second of his celebrations.

The 49ers then blocked a punt, and Garcia threw a 3-yard touchdown pass to J.J. Stokes with 39 seconds left. They tried an onside kick, but Dallas recovered.

``We never really seemed to get on track,'' said Garcia, who was 21-of-36 for 229 yards with two TDs and a 6-yard TD run.

Owens had 93 yards on five catches, but his first came in the final minute of the second quarter.

``I'm a valuable part of the offense and I can't get the ball. That's a problem,'' he said. ``I got open. For whatever reason, the ball didn't come my way.''

Carter led two long drives in the first half, getting a 22-yard field goal from Jon Hilbert and throwing a 2-yard TD pass to Darrin Chiaverini. He got the second half going with a 44-yard pass to Galloway and appeared to cap the drive with a 3-yard TD run.

After Mariucci challenged successfully, Carter ran again from the 1 and was ruled in, although replays showed he probably wasn't. Mariucci, who had one challenge left, held onto his red flag.

Carter highlighted the next drive with a 9-yard run up the middle on third-and-8. On the next play, he slipped while dropping back, but recovered to heave a 47-yard TD pass to Galloway. The next drive ended with a 20-yard field goal.

Smith went over 16,000 career yards rushing and moved within 56 of 1,000 this season. He's trying to become the first player to do it 11 times; he shares the record with Barry Sanders and will try breaking it Sunday in Detroit. Walter Payton is the only other player with 10 1,000-yard seasons.