Sunday, November 14th 1999, 12:00 am
News On 6
Maybe losing superstars Troy Aikman, Emmitt Smith and Michael Irvin was the jolt the Dallas Cowboys needed.
Backup quarterback Jason Garrett showed the poise and accuracy of Aikman, and safety George Teague helped the defense withstand a typical late charge by Brett Favre as Dallas beat Green Bay 27-13 Sunday.
Playing without their Big Three for the first time in a decade, the Cowboys (5-4) ended a two-game losing streak and leaped from third in the NFC East into a first-place tie with Washington and the New York Giants, both of whom lost Sunday.
"It's really a special day to win when three of the best players to ever play their positions in the NFL are standing on the sidelines in T-shirts and ballcaps," Garrett said.
The Packers (4-5) dropped their third straight and fourth in five games to fall below .500 in the second half of a season for the first time since 1994. This was their eighth straight loss at Texas Stadium.
"If we're not mad, there's something wrong with this locker room," Green Bay receiver Antonio Freeman said. "We've got to find out among ourselves, man to man, what's going wrong and fix it."
Dallas, which blew leads of 17, 14 and 10 points in losing three of its last four games, almost choked again after going ahead 20-3 with 10:40 left.
Favre shook off three quarters of missed opportunities -- both by him and his receivers -- to throw a 26-yard touchdown pass to Freeman with 6:53 to go, then set up Ryan Longwell's 31-yard field goal with 1:21 to play that closed Green Bay to 20-13.
The Packers recovered the onside kick and moved to the Dallas 25 with 21 seconds left, then Teague intercepted a pass on the sideline and coasted 95 yards for a touchdown.
Teague raised the ball in celebration at the 50. Before he even reached the end zone, Favre was walking slowly to the sidelines with his helmet off and his shoulders slumped.
"I know everyone expects us to be better. I expect us to be better and I expect myself to be better," Favre said. "But right now we're 4-5 and in in a negative momentum swing."
Favre wore a wristband that had "patience" written in all capital letters. Apparently, that meant waiting until the fourth quarter because that's when he had half his 26 completions and 149 of his 260 yards.
It wasn't all his fault, though. The rollcall of blunders included almost all the receivers, beginning with Corey Bradford dropping a bomb in the end zone on the game's second play. Freeman didn't catch a pass until late in the third quarter.
Sometimes Favre was to blame, like when he whizzed a third-and-goal pass well away from a wide-open Bradford and his first interception, a forced pass that Kevin Smith snagged in the end zone.
"He had people drop passes and I can see where that might affect him," Rhodes said. "We didn't play well as a team. Everyone is disappointed and everyone is hurt by it."
Although Garrett came into the game 5-2 as a starter -- including a memorable Thanksgiving 1994 comeback win over Green Bay -- he always had Smith and Irvin to ease the burden of replacing Aikman.
That wasn't the case this time as injuries forces Dallas to play without all of their Big Three for the first time since Nov. 5, 1989 -- a span of 159 games.
But the redheaded Princeton grad usually seen holding a clipboard established himself from the beginning, hitting six of his first seven passes. The only incompletion was a catch Ernie Mills made with his toes barely out of the back of the end zone.
"Any time you are successful early it's going to help you," said Garrett, who was 13-of-23 for 199 yards and two touchdowns with no interceptions. "It just flowed from there."
Garrett's first two drives covered 152 yards and milked 13 minutes off the clock, although Dallas led only 7-0 because Richie Cunningham missed a 22-yard field goal on the second series.
A nice two-minute drill by Garrett at the end of the second quarter allowed Cunningham to redeem himself with a 44-yarder as time expired, giving Dallas a 10-3 halftime lead.
Garrett opened the third quarter with another long drive, only to have it spoiled by Chris Warren's fumble at the Green Bay 16. So Garrett went the quick-strike route on the next series, moving 68 yards in three plays, the last a 37-yard touchdown by Raghib Ismail that put Dallas up 17-3.
The worst news for Dallas was the sprained knee suffered by All-Pro offensive lineman Larry Allen in the third quarter. He might miss several weeks.
Notes: Cowboys defensive lineman Leon Lett played for the first time since an eight-game suspension. He made his presence felt by blocking a third-down pass in the fourth quarter that forced the Packers to punt from their end zone. ... Deion Sanders aggravated a groin injury on the game's second play and was in and out the rest of the game. He returned only one punt ... Green Bay return specialist Desmond Howard broke his ring finger in practice and was inactive. Offensive guard Joe Andruzzi sprained his right knee in the second quarter and didn't return. ... Dallas improved to 15-17 in games without at least one of its so-called triplets. ... Green Bay defensive back Darren Sharper had consecutive third-down sacks in the second quarter. ... The Packers haven't won at Texas Stadium since Dec. 24, 1989.