REDEMPTION COMES SWIFTLY : AFTER YET ANOTHER MISFIRE, AIKMAN LEADS DALLAS WIN.
This time, Troy Aikman made up for his mistake - with a little help from teammate Fred Strickland.
After Aikman threw another fourth-quarter interception Sunday that could have buried the Cowboys, Strickland, a Dallas linebacker, got the ball back for him by intercepting San Francisco's Elvis Grbac on the next play.
From there, Aikman threw for the tying touchdown and led the drive leading to Chris Boniol's 29-yard field goal with 8:43 left in overtime as the Cowboys edged the 49ers 20-17.
Dallas (6-4), in danger of falling from postseason contention, avoided a second straight loss and ended a three-game losing streak to San Francisco (7-3). With Washington and Philadelphia losing Sunday, the Cowboys pulled within one game of the NFC East lead. Next Monday night, they play Green Bay.
``This was a game we felt we had to have to get back on track,'' said Aikman, who completed 24 of 39 passes for 230 yards. ``It only continues to remain big if we go on and play well.''
Said Dallas guard Nate Newton: ``What drives us is the fear of not making the playoffs.''
The 49ers played much of the game with Grbac at quarterback in place of Steve Young, who was sidelined late in the second quarter by a concussion. He is questionable for next week's game against Baltimore.
Young, who was blasted on several plays early in the game, was knocked out in the second quarter, suffering his second concussion in three weeks. He did not return.
``Steve has us worried,'' receiver Jerry Rice said. ``I hope things turn out OK.''
``I tried to come back in,'' said Young, ``but it was clear in trying to call the plays, I just wasn't focused. I feel much better now. My memory is coming back. I, along, with my doctors, will monitor my progress as the week goes on.''
His friend Aikman knows the heat he would have taken if his interception had cost the Cowboys the game. ``I might have been on a skewer this week if we didn't win,'' he said.
After throwing an end-zone interception that was returned for a touchdown in the final minute of last week's 31-21 loss to Philadelphia, the former UCLA quarterback was driving the Cowboys toward a score late in the fourth quarter against the 49ers when a pass intended for Deion Sanders was picked off inside the San Francisco 5 by Marquez Pope.
Did it cause Aikman to think about last week? ``Somewhat,'' he said.
But Sanders said, ``I'm not going to blame it on Troy. I feel like I didn't come back to the ball. (Pope) made a good play and I didn't run a good route.''
After Pope's 4-yard return, San Francisco took over on the 9, but on the first play, Grbac threw behind William Floyd, and Strickland was there for the interception at the 15.
This time, Dallas made it into the end zone for the tying score, with Aikman throwing a 6-yard touchdown pass to Eric Bjornson on third down with 2:45 remaining in regulation.
``I think this is a great game for Troy to show he can make a mistake and redeem himself,'' Newton said.
Grbac's second interception was the 49ers' third turnover of the game, while Aikman's interception was Dallas' only turnover. In the three previous games, San Francisco forced 12 Dallas turnovers and lost the ball only once.
``I just made a stupid mistake,'' Grbac said of his last interception. ``The way I look at it, I lost the game for this team.''
San Francisco coach George Seifert was not as critical.
``You don't like to see errors,'' Seifert said. ``But you've got to be good enough to play through them. We can't be blaming a coach or a player for losses. They call this a football team.''
Strickland couldn't help but catch Grbac's pass. ``That was one that was given to me,'' he said. ``We thought they would try to run the clock down. We were thinking we had to stop the run to get the ball back, so we were kind of shocked.''
Each team had the ball once in the final minutes of regulation without scoring, forcing the overtime.
Dallas won the toss and drove 66 yards in 12 plays. Sanders caught a key third-down pass for 7 yards and a first down at the 49ers 28, and then Emmitt Smith broke up the middle for 16 yards.
Two plays later, Boniol came on for the winning kick, giving Dallas coach Barry Switzer his first win in four games against the 49ers.
Photo: (color) San Francisco quarterback Steve Young fumbles and prepares to hit the deck on a rough day against Dallas.
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|Publication:||Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)|
|Date:||Nov 11, 1996|
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