Bob Hayes had punt returns of 64 and 68 yards, and caught an 86 yard scoring pass from Don Meredith to help lead the Cowboys to a 52-14 playoff win over the Cleveland Browns on December 24, 1967 at the Cotton Bowl.
Since the Dallas Cowboys entered the NFL in 1960 they have 34 post-season victories, tying the Cowboys with the Pittsburgh Steelers for the most during that time period. 49 years ago today at the Cotton Bowl, the Cowboys won their first in a most convincing fashion.
The first 12 times the Cowboys faced off against the Cleveland Browns, the Browns won 11 of the games. The tide had turned somewhat in 1966 when the Cowboys defeated the Browns 26-14 on Thanksgiving Day, and Dallas defeated the Browns in Cleveland in the 1967 regular season by a 21-14 score. Both teams finished the 1967 season with 9-5 records, and they were matched in the first round of the NFL Playoffs for a Christmas Eve contest at the Cotton Bowl.
Dallas took control of the game early, scoring a touchdown on a Don Meredith to Craig Baynham pass on its first drive. Cleveland did nothing with its first possession, and saw Bob Hayes run the ensuing punt back 64 yards to set up another short Cowboys’ touchdown, this one coming on a four yard run by Don Perkins.
The second quarter saw another explosive play by the NFL’s fastest man, as Hayes got behind the Cleveland secondary and caught a Meredith bomb that he took all the way for an 86 yard touchdown that expanded Dallas’ lead to 21-0. A short field goal by Danny Villanueva expanded Dallas’ lead to 24-0 before Cleveland got on the board right before halftime on a scoring pass from Frank Ryan to Milt Morin.
Dallas’ third quarter left no doubt about how the game would end up. The Cowboys scored on their first possession, with a 36 yard pass to Hayes setting up a one yard run by Baynham to expand the lead to 31-7. Later in the quarter Hayes was at it again, returning a punt 68 yards to set up Perkins’ one yard scoring run that put Dallas up 38-7. Cornell Green’s 60 yard interception return for a touchdown gave Dallas a 45-7 lead near the end of the quarter.
With Meredith having already completed 11 of 13 passes for 212 yards and two scores, Tom Landry turned to Craig Morton to finish the game at quarterback and the young understudy continued the siege on the visitors from Ohio. Morton directed an 57 yard scoring drive that ended with another short touchdown run by Baynham, and Dallas was ahead 52-7. A late scoring toss from Ryan to Hall of Famer Paul Warfield ended the scoring.
The 21 points scored by the Cowboys in the third quarter remains tied for the third most points scored by the team in a single quarter in the post-season. The Cowboys’ high in that department is 27, set on January 9, 2010 at then Cowboys Stadium in Dallas’ 34-14 rout of the Philadelphia Eagles. The 1996 Cowboys team holds the record for second most points scored in a post-season quarter, with 23 in the second quarter of its 40-15 triumph over the Vikings at Texas Stadium.
Meredith’s 158.3 QBR on the date is one of four times since 1960 that a quarterback’s rating has been at that level in a post-season game where he’s thrown at least 10 passes. The quarterbacks who share the mark with Dandy Don include Terry Bradshaw who did so in a 1976 contest at Baltimore against the Colts, Seattle’s Dave Krieg who shredded the Denver Broncos in a December 1983 showdown with Denver and Peyton Manning who also torched the Broncos, this one coming in a January 2004 game at Indianapolis.
Hayes’ 144 punt return yards in the game set an NFL record, one that stood for 20 years until Anthony Carter of the Vikings broke it in a game against San Francisco.
The Cowboys’ convincing win at home earned them a trip to Green Bay one week later to face the World Champion Packers in the infamous Ice Bowl. The Browns would lose again to the Cowboys when they next faced them in the 1968 regular season, but would get their revenge in the playoffs as they knocked Dallas out with a 31-20 win at Cleveland in Meredith’s final game in the NFL.