Backup quarterback Steve Beuerlein played well for the Cowboys down the stretch of the 1991 season. The veteran lead the team to wins in each of the four regular season games he started in place of the injured Troy Aikman and guided Dallas to its first playoff win in eight seasons on December 29th at Soldier Field against the Chicago Bears.
From 1967 through 1982, post-season victories were a common occurrence for the Dallas Cowboys. Dallas won an NFL high 20 playoff games during that span, including two Super Bowl games and five NFC Championship contests.
By 1991 however, the Cowboys’ drought for winning in the post-season had reached eight seasons. Tom Landry’s Cowboys had lost their last two playoff contests, one in 1983 and the other in 1985. Jimmy Johnson’s Dallas team improved from 1-15 in 1989 to 7-9 in 1990, and then made a big leap to an 11-5 mark in 1991 that secured Dallas a wildcard playoff spot.
In the way of Dallas on a 34 day in the Windy City were the Mike Dikta-led Chicago Bears, who looked to show the upstart Cowboys that their time in the post-season had not yet come. Thanks to Emmitt Smith’s running, a strong defense effort and steady play at quarterback by backup Steve Beuerlein, the Cowboys would show the Bears and the football world that they were coming of age earlier than expected.
Smith ran for 105 yards and scored a touchdown in the first of seven 100 yard plus games he would have in his magnificent career. His one yard touchdown run in the first quarter gave Dallas a 10-0 lead, and it was clear the Bears were in for a fight against the young and hungry Cowboys.
The story of the day for the Bears were lost opportunities and turnovers. Larry Brown and Bill Bates had interceptions for Dallas, and Bates also caused a fumble on Chicago’s first drive when the Bears appeared to be heading for a score. Dallas also stopped Chicago on a crucial drive in the red zone in the first half when star back Neal Anderson couldn’t penetrate the rugged Cowboys’ defense.
Russell Maryland, Jimmie Jones and veteran Jim Jeffcoat, who had endured the post-season losses in 1983 and 1985, each had a sack of Bears’ quarterback Jim Harbaugh to help keep Dallas on top despite being outgained by the home team by 372 to 288 yards.
Beuerlein was 9 for 18 on the day, throwing a three yard touchdown pass to Jay Novacek in the third quarter and connecting with rookie Alvin Harper three times for 88 yards. Harper’s running mate at receiver, future Hall of Famer Michael Irvin, had four catches for 83 yards.
The final significant play of the game was Bates’ interception of Harbaugh with a little more than a minute to play that sealed the Cowboys’ 21st post-season victory. Dallas’ run in the post-season would end convincingly in Detroit on the next weekend, but the success of the 1991 team was harbinger of things to come in Dallas. In 1992 and 1993, the final two seasons of Johnson’s tenure as Cowboys’ coach, the team would win back to back Super Bowl titles.