Before there was Miles Austin, there was no better battle for the Preston Road Trophy than the one on Dec. 11, 2005.
The Preston Road Trophy is named for the area of Dallas near Preston Road where both the Jones family and the Hunt family reside. According to Dallas Cowboys Radio Network sideline reporter extraordinaire, Kristi Scales, whichever family is in possession of the trophy can see it on display in the window of the other's homes. At least, that was the case when Chiefs founder Lamar Hunt was alive. His son, Clark, keeps the trophy now in his office since Kansas City's victory over Dallas in 2013.
Dallas and Kansas City were fighting for their playoff lives in December 2005. Looking at an optimistic 7-3 pre-Thanksgiving record, Dallas had now fallen to 7-5 and 3-2 in the NFC East. Kansas City was riding a three-game winning streak into the contest with an 8-4 record and a victory against the Denver Broncos, their main competition for the AFC West lead.
The Chiefs got on the board first with breakout running back Larry Johnson rushing for 11-yard touchdown with 9:37 in the first quarter. Dallas struggled to respond, and their reply somewhat faint with kicker Billy Cundiff kicking a 34-yard field goal with 8:04 in the second quarter.
Dallas kicked field goals. Kansas City scored touchdowns. Johnson, again, crossed the goal line, this time from one yard out, to extend Kansas City's lead 14-3 with 5:24 to go in the first half.
Parcells' teams at every stop from both New Yorks to New England always featured conservative, field position football. However, when it came time for razzle dazzle, Parcells spared no expense. On a second-and-7 from the Dallas 29, running back Julius Jones took the hand-off and tread up the middle, stopped, and then lateraled the ball back to quarterback Drew Bledsoe, who hit receiver Terry Glenn with a 71-yard bomb that injected excitement into the Cowboys crowd at Texas Stadium. Dallas trailed 14-10 with 4:05 until halftime.
Kansas City fed off the energy and drove 77 yards to the Dallas 9-yard line, first-and-goal, in seven plays. After an incomplete pass to Johnson, quarterback Trent Green dropped back on second down to get sacked by former Chiefs linebacker Scott Fujita. Green fumbled the football, and first-round rookie defensive end Marcus Spears scooped up the loose ball and rumbled 59 yards down to the Chiefs' 26. With 1:02 to go until intermission, Dallas had a chance to pull within one or take the lead.
Tight end Jason Witten has been saving Dallas quarterbacks' bacon since 2003. Witten caught a 5-yard pass, then Bledsoe got sacked, and then Witten caught a 26-yard score on third-and-10 to give the Cowboys a 17-14 lead at the break.
The Cowboys received the ball to start the second half, but went three-and-out. Kansas City responded with Johnson rushing for his third touchdown of the game from 21 yards out on third-and-2 to give the Chiefs a 21-17 lead.
Dallas and Kansas City traded punts until the Cowboys got a hold of the ball with 2:57 to go in the third quarter. The Cowboys put together a 10-play drive, but appeared stymied on third-and-1 from the Kansas City 6-yard line. The running back tandem of Marion Barber and Julius Jones wasn't getting it done, and Barber would finish with 15 carries for 82 and Jones 12 for 41.
Again, the Big Tuna brought the gadgets.
Dallas called an end-around to Glenn, who dashed six yards for the lead. The Cowboys were back on top 24-21 early in the fourth quarter.
The Cowboys forced Kansas City into a three-and-out, and the following drive was very optimistic for Dallas at their own 30. After an inauspicious start with defensive end Jared Allen strip-sacking Bledsoe, the Cowboys recovered, flipped the field with two Glenn catches for 28 yards, and now had a first-and-10 at the Kansas City 36. However, it culminated in one net yard and a 35-yard Mat McBriar punt that was a touchback.
Parcells was playing the field position game, but the field position game is inconsequential when facing a big-play offense like the Chiefs, who had Johnson in the backfield, Eddie Kennison out wide, Dante Hall at their disposal, and trusty Tony Gonzalez. In seven plays, the Chiefs marched 80 yards and Kennison caught a 47-yard touchdown to put the Chiefs up 28-24 with 4:04 to play.
In 2005, they were known as the "Cardiac Cowboys" for a reason, apologies to the original "Kardiac Kids," the 1980 Cleveland Browns. The '05 Cowboys played in 11 games that were decided by one score. This was their 10th such game.
Bledsoe led the Cowboys from their own 32 down to the Kansas City 6-yard line in 12 plays. The ballgame was on the line. The season was one the line. The Giants had beaten the Eagles in overtime to notch a 9-4 record and Washington beat Arizona to improve their record 7-6. A loss would drop Dallas with Washington, giving the latter the tiebreaker given they beat the Cowboys earlier in the year. Not to mention, Dallas had to travel to D.C. the next week.
Bledsoe's pass for Witten at the goal line fell incomplete. Bledsoe squatted, lifted his helmet slightly to the top of his head, and seemed to accept the inevitable turnover on downs and defeat. However, referee Pete Morelli called defensive holding on linebacker Derrick Johnson. Dallas got a new set of downs and the ball inched closer to the 3-yard line.
After the obligatory 2-yard run up the gut from Jones, Dallas went with a jumbo package on second-and-goal from the 1. Bledsoe rolled out and hit his tight end for the go-ahead score -- not Witten, but Witten's predecessor, Dan Campbell. The Cowboys took a 31-28 lead with 26 seconds to go.
Kansas City took over at their own 28 with 16 seconds to go and a timeout. Green hit Samie Parker for 14 yards, and then Hall for 34. Timeout. Kicker Lawrence Tynes lined up for a 41-yard field goal to send the game into overtime, but he shanked the kick, and Jones went home with the Preston Road Trophy and his team at 8-5 and still in the playoff hunt.
In 2017, the playoff hunt starts way earlier on the first Sunday of November for the 4-3 Cowboys chasing the 7-1 Eagles. Like 2005, the Cowboys are playing for their postseason chances, and, yes, Morelli will referee again.
Have fond memories of those pre-Romo, post-Quincy Carter days? Share 'em with Mark on Twitter @therealmarklane.