DALLAS - One of the hard parts of writing this column for the past five seasons is a lot of the themes get boring.
Take for example this Sunday's match-up between Dallas and San Francisco. How many times can you write about the 1990s and the Triplets and Steve Young and Jerry Rice? And it's not just myself. Look at all of the material it is surrounding that rivalry. Writing an article on that would be akin to these Twitter users that try to outdo each other by how much they're jonesing for Game of Thrones.
Another fun time in the series was Jesse Holley's memorable catch in 2011, but I already wrote an article about that. And I'm sure a certain radio station in town will hearken back to that game this Sunday.
Terrell Owens and the Star incident with George Teague is iconic, but I prefer to write about away games if the Cowboys are set to play on the road Sunday and visa versa.
So what do I write about?
Sept. 25, 2005 -- Cowboys at 49ers in the penultimate Candlestick Park (then Monster Park) game in the series.
Much like now, the Bill Parcells Cowboys were struggling with their identity and blowing fourth quarter leads. Dallas entered the game 1-1 after losing a heartbreaker 14-13 to Washington on Monday Night Football. San Francisco was similar to today in that they had a rookie head coach in Mike Nolan, but they also drafted quarterback Alex Smith No. 1 overall. However, it was Tim Rattay that guided them to their 1-1 mark.
Dallas started off the game with a promising eight-play drive that culminated in a third-and-1 from the San Francisco 31-yard line. Even though the Cowboys converted earlier in that drive on a fourth-and-1 with running back Julius Jones rushing just past the line to gain, the coaching staff (with Sean Payton as "passing game coordinator") called a pass play. Warhorse defensive lineman Bryant Young dropped Drew Bledsoe for an eight-yard loss, knocking Dallas out of field goal range.
The 49ers drove 80 yards after a Mat McBriar touchback thanks to the rushing attack of Frank Gore, Kevin Barlow, and Rattay. The six-year pro connected with Arnaz Battle for a 15-yard touchdown to put San Francisco up 7-0 with 3:38 in the first quarter.
Jones fumbled on the second play of the next drive and the 49ers recovering at the Dallas 46-yard line. First-round rookie linebacker DeMarcus Ware got his first career sack on second down, which helped turn the San Francisco drive into a three-and-out.
From the Dallas 8-yard line, Bledsoe drove the Cowboys to a second quarter touchdown, writing a script that would be all too familiar in Cowboys lore: passes to Jason Witten. The third-year tight end caught three passes for 40 yards. Bledsoe's 6-yard scoring scramble was not punctuated by the customary extra point.
Instead, long snapper Jon Condo produced a poor snap, which holder Tony Romo couldn't salvage, and kicker Jose Cortez couldn't put through the uprights. As Cortez yelled at his teammates, All-Pro, All-World offensive lineman Larry Allen punched Cortez in the face mask, grabbing on and imploring the free agent kicker to regain his composure.
After a holding penalty on the 49ers, Rattay hit receiver Brandon Lloyd for an 89-yard bomb, a weakness in the Cowboys secondary Washington had exposed the previous week with Mark Brunell hitting Santana Moss for two unanswered touchdowns to win the game. San Francisco led 14-6 with 7:56 until halftime.
Bledsoe put together another scoring drive to respond to Rattay. However, the pass was intercepted by safety Tony Parrish and put the 49ers ahead 21-6. Not exactly the scoring drive Dallas was looking for.
The 13-year Pro Bowler wasn't exactly the player he was in New England before Tom Brady took his job and never gave it back. He had flashes, and he showed one of them on the ensuing drive as he found Witten for 26 yards, receiver Keyshawn Johnson for 27, and Witten again for a 6-yard touchdown. He couldn't find reserve tight end Dan Campbell for the two-point conversion, so the score was a palindrome at 21-12.
Rattay played so well it was though Jeff Garcia had never left for Cleveland as he drove the 49ers to the Dallas 1-yard line on second-and-goal with 36 seconds until halftime. However, he fumbled the ball for a 2-yard loss, had to spike it on third down, and forced San Francisco to settle for a 20-yard Joe Nedney field goal and a 24-12 halftime lead.
The Dallas defense forced San Francisco into a three-and-out coming out of the locker room. Jones then capped off a 10-play drive with a 1-yard touchdown. And Cortez hit the extra point. It was smiles all around for the Cowboys as they chipped into the 49er lead 24-19.
The two teams traded punts and even turnovers as linebacker Scott Fujita forced a Battle fumble and linebacker Dat Nguyen recovered. But on the very next play, Bledsoe found his buddy in the 49ers secondary, Parrish, again.
Then, they started trading points. Lloyd caught a 13-yard touchdown to push San Francisco ahead 31-19, and Jones rushed again for a 1-yard score after being setup on a Terry Glenn 58-yard catch and Johnson 13-yard catch. And Cortez made the extra point. Dallas remained as an object in the mirror closer than their appearance with a 31-26 deficit.
Linebacker Al Singleton picked off Rattay on the next drive, but the offense stalled with a three-and-out. 12:03 to play.
Defensive end Greg Ellis sacked Rattay on third-and-10, but the offense stalled again with a three-and-out. 8:43 to play.
Defensive tackle La'Roi Glover dropped Battle for an eight-yard loss on third-and-2 to force a three-and-out. The offense could not afford another scoreless drive with 6:05 to play.
Bledsoe engineered 24 fourth quarter comebacks and 31 game-winning drives in his 14-year career. As Cowboys fans, you won't believe this, but his career high in both categories came in 2005 with four and five respectively. The No. 1 overall pick from the 1993 NFL Draft was Captain Comeback for the Cardiac Cowboys in 2005.
He dumped off to Jones for a 5-yard gain. He found Glenn for a 6-yard conversion on third-and-3. Bledsoe hit receiver Patrick Crayton for four yards, and then struck Glenn for 44.
First-and-10 from the 49ers 15-yard with 2:43 to go and all three timeouts. The Cowboys send Jones up the middle for a 1-yard gain. Witten couldn't haul it in on second-and-9.
Third down and nine yards to go, Bledsoe hit Johnson for a 14-yard touchdown to give Dallas their first lead of the game 32-31. Cortez's missed extra point played a factor even at this stage in the game, which is why Bledsoe went back to Johnson for the two-point conversion to give the Cowboys a 34-31 lead with 1:48 to play.
Nguyen picked off Rattay with a minute to play, which was quite a fitting end to his 30th birthday. Dallas left Monster Park with a 2-1 record, but would stay in California as they traveled to Oxnard to avoid making another trip out to the West Coast. They had Oakland the next week, same time (late game), same channel (Fox), same commentators (Dick Stockton, Daryl Johnston, and Tony Siragusa).
What are your favorite Cowboys memories against the 49ers? Share 'em with Mark on Twitter @therealmarklane.
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