|1996 Dallas Cowboys season|
|Head coach||Barry Switzer|
|Home field||Texas Stadium|
|Division place||1st NFC East|
|Playoff finish||Won NFC Wild Card Playoff (Vikings) 40-15|
Lost NFC Divisional Playoff (at Panthers) 17-26
The 1996 Dallas Cowboys season was the franchise's 37th season in the National Football League and was the third year under head coach Barry Switzer. Following their victory in Super Bowl XXX, the Cowboys endured a rough year failing to improve their 12-4 record from 1995 but still reached the playoffs with a 10-6 record. Star receiver Michael Irvin was suspended by the league for the first five games and before the playoffs was accused along with lineman Erik Williams of sexual assault. Controversy also took place when writer Skip Bayless published a scathing account of the Cowboys' 1995 season. Longtime trainer Mike Woicik also left the team after the season following a sideline dispute with coach Barry Switzer although Woicik returned in 2011.
This season would be the last season the Cowboys won a playoff game until 2009, and since their Super Bowl win the previous season, the Cowboys have never made it past the divisional round as of 2019.
This would be Troy Aikman's final season with a playoff win and final where he reached 60 percent completions.
|1996 Dallas Cowboys draft|
|2||37||Kavika Pittman||Defensive end||McNeese State|
|3||67||Clay Shiver||Center||Florida State|
|3||94||Stepfret Williams||Wide Receiver||Louisiana-Monroe|
|3||95||Mike Ulufale||Defensive end||BYU|
|5||157||Kenneth McDaniel||Defensive back||Norfolk State|
|7||243||Ryan Wood||Running back||Arizona State|
|Made roster + Pro Football Hall of Fame * Made at least one Pro Bowl during career|
Against the Chicago Bears in week one, running back Emmitt Smith would leave the game late with an injury that left him temporarily paralyzed. Though not career-threatening, Smith's injury would hamper his effectiveness for the duration of the season. Adding to their difficulties, star wide receiver Michael Irvin would be suspended for the first five games due his highly publicized off-season incidents. Star cornerback Deion Sanders would be the first player in the modern era of the NFL to start several games on both offense and defense. Charles Haley, a major defensive force for the Cowboys during the prior four seasons, missed most of the 1996 season with injury. Tight End Jay Novacek, a key offensive threat in recent seasons, missed the entire season due to an injury.
After losing three of their first four games, the team would return to form, winning three straight before defeating former head coach Jimmy Johnson, then head coach of the Miami Dolphins on the way to their fifth consecutive NFC East title. Although Dallas still moved the ball well on offense, they had serious late-season trouble scoring touchdowns (ultimately finishing just 25th in the league in points scored). They won games with Green Bay (21-6) and New England (12-6) (the season's eventual Super Bowl participants) without scoring a touchdown (seven field goals against Green Bay and four against New England); Dallas' defense finished third in the league in fewest points allowed.
The season would also see the return of former Cowboy Herschel Walker who added versatility as both a running back and kick off returner. Walker had ten carries for 83 yards and a touchdown and 27 kick returns for 779 yards.
The game of the year came on November 10 at San Francisco. The Cowboys stood at 5-4 with the Niners at 7-2; the Niners had won three straight meetings with the Cowboys since Barry Switzer was hired as head coach. Sacks by Broderick Thomas and Jim Schwantz knocked Niners quarterback Steve Young out of the game and Elvis Grbac, who'd shredded the Cowboys defense the previous year, came on, and after the Niners blew a 10-0 lead they took a 17-10 lead with 11:30 left in the fourth quarter. The Cowboys drove to the Niners redzone but Aikman was picked off in the endzone by Marquez Pope with 6:30 to go. Grbac, however, was intercepted at his six-yard line on the ensuing play by Fred Strickland, and three plays later Aikman connected with Eric Bjornson for the tying touchdown. In the overtime a big Emmitt Smith run set up Chris Boniol's winning field goal. With the win combined with a Redskins loss to Arizona, the Cowboys surged to win the NFC East.
After defeating the Minnesota Vikings 40-15 in the first round of the playoffs at Texas Stadium (which was, until 2009, their last playoff win), the Cowboys would travel to Charlotte, North Carolina and lose to the second year Carolina Panthers, who'd won the NFC West at 12-4 in their second ever season. Star receiver Michael Irvin was injured in the opening moments of the Carolina playoff game. Deion Sanders was also injured and had to leave as well.
The Cowboys' win over the 49ers ended a curious decade-long losing streak in Week 10 games (this included an 0-3 record in week 10 games during World Championship seasons). Also, with the win against the Miami Dolphins at Joe Robbie Stadium, this was the first time the Cowboys franchise won a football game in South Florida. During this period of futility, the Cowboys lost three Super Bowls in the Orange Bowl by a total of 11 points and lost twice to the Miami Dolphins in 1978 (23 to 16, also in a week 10 game) and in 1984 (28 to 21).
|1||at Chicago Bears||L 6-22||0-1||Soldier Field||Recap|
|2||September 8||New York Giants||W 27-0||1-1||Texas Stadium||Recap|
|3||September 15||Indianapolis Colts||L 24-25||1-2||Texas Stadium||Recap|
|4||September 22||at Buffalo Bills||L 7-10||1-3||Rich Stadium||Recap|
|5||at Philadelphia Eagles||W 23-19||2-3||Veterans Stadium||Recap|
|7||October 13||Arizona Cardinals||W 17-3||3-3||Texas Stadium||Recap|
|8||October 20||Atlanta Falcons||W 32-28||4-3||Texas Stadium||Recap|
|9||October 27||at Miami Dolphins||W 29-10||5-3||Pro Player Stadium||Recap|
|10||November 3||Philadelphia Eagles||L 21-31||5-4||Texas Stadium||Recap|
|11||November 10||at San Francisco 49ers||W 20-17||6-4||3com park||Recap|
|12||Green Bay Packers||W 21-6||7-4||Texas Stadium||Recap|
|13||November 24||at New York Giants||L 6-20||7-5||Giants Stadium||Recap|
|14||Washington Redskins||W 21-10||8-5||Texas Stadium||Recap|
|15||December 8||at Arizona Cardinals||W 10-6||9-5||Sun Devil Stadium||Recap|
|16||December 15||New England Patriots||W 12-6||10-5||Texas Stadium||Recap|
|17||December 22||at Washington Redskins||L 10-37||10-6||RFK Stadium||Recap|
Dallas' season as defending champions got off to a terrible start between the five-game suspension of Michael Irvin and a poor performance by Troy Aikman with two interceptions and just 21 passes completed. Emmitt Smith had seventy yards rushing but suffered temporary paralysis. The Cowboys surrendered four turnovers (Aikman had a fumble in the fourth quarter as did Deion Sanders) in the 22-6 loss.
At home the Cowboys rebounded by intercepting Giants quarterback Dave Brown three times and limiting him to just 55 yards. Emmitt Smith and Sherman Williams combined for 31 carries and 120 yards while Aikman threw for 228 yards and three touchdowns in the 27-0 shutout.
What fell an Aaron Bailey touchdown drop short of being the Super Bowl XXX matchup happened at Texas Stadium and the ensuing game was a tight affair. After the Cowboys raced to a 21-3 lead the Colts lived up to Jim Harbaugh's "Captain Comeback" nickname as Harbaugh stormed the Colts to lead 22-21 in the third. After an exchange of field goals (25-24 Colts) in the fourth Aikman completed two passes to the Colts 39. Chris Boniol booted the ball for the 57-yard field goal but it bounced off the crossbar; asked in post game about his range he said it was "fifty-six and a half."
Following an ugly loss at Pittsburgh the week before the Bills had to start young Todd Collins in injured Jim Kelly's stead hosting the team that had denied them in two Superbowls. The Bills defense took over; Troy Aikman was intercepted three times and he suffered an ankle injury on his final throw as he was sandwiched by Bruce Smith. The result was a 10-7 Bills win in a game with just 416 total net yards of offense.
Returning to the site of the controversial twin attempt to convert a late 4th down the year before, the Cowboys fell behind 10-0 then raced to lead 20-10 and ultimately won 23-19 in a game with seven turnovers, five of them by the Eagles. Rodney Peete of the Eagles was lost for the season during the game.
Michael Irvin returned from suspension and the Cowboys won 17-3. Irvin caught five passes on ten targets for 51 yards. Despite the return of Irvin teammate Darren Woodson lamented, "We're not close to being a championship team. If we think getting Michael back fixes everything, we're kidding ourselves."
Few expected the 0-6 Falcons embroiled in controversy between coach June Jones and benched quarterback Jeff George to put up serious resistance to the Cowboys but after Dallas led 17-6 the Falcons behind Jamal Anderson and Bobby Hebert stormed to lead 28-25 with 7:09 to go. After an exchange of punts the Cowboys in the final 2:46 needed just one minute and a 60-yard Troy Aikman touchdown to Kelvin Martin to ultimately win 32-28.
This was the most anticipated regular season game of the season in the meeting of the Cowboys and their former coach. But Jimmy Johnson, questioned incessantly all week about his former team, could only watch as his Dolphins collapsed from a 10-6 lead in the second to a 29-10 loss. While Troy Aikman (363 yards and three touchdowns) downplayed the meeting, Charles Haley, only in his fourth game of the season, spoke freely about hating Johnson over a "no practice, no play" rule during his time in Dallas; Haley was held without a tackle.
The Cowboys' playoff hopes took a hit in a 31-21 home loss to the now-7-2 Eagles. Troy Aikman was intercepted twice while Ty Detmer threw one touchdown and ran in another.
For four seasons this had been the rivalry of football and it was once again a league-wide measuring stick. After Steve Young was sacked out of the game the Cowboys fell behind 17-10. Aikman was intercepted by Marquez Pope at San Francisco's 9-yard line in the final seven minutes, but on the next play Elvis Grbac was intercepted by Fred Strickland. Given new life Aikman found Eric Bjornson and the game went to overtime tied 17-17. A long Emmitt Smith run in overtime resulted in the winning Cowboys field goal. The win was Barry Switzer's only win over the Niners and Dallas was now just one game out in the NFC East.
A 20-6 loss to the now-5-7 Giants in which the Cowboys yet again failed the score a touchdown left Dallas still on course for the NFC East but eliminated from a playoff bye.
Emmitt Smith rammed in three touchdowns, the first for Dallas since the San Francisco game, in a 21-10 win over a Redskins team in free fall after starting 7-1. Troy Aikman had his worst showing of the season with just 63 yards and a pick.
Once again the Cowboys failed to score a touchdown but held the surging Patriots to just two field goals; rookie kicker Adam Vinatieri also ran down Herschel Walker on a long kick return as the Cowboys clinched the NFC East in a 12-6 win.
Having clinched the division and out of contention for a playoff bye the Cowboys rested Troy Aikman and Emmitt Smith among others while the Redskins, out of the playoffs at 8-7, played their final game at RFK Stadium and won going away 37-10. Wade Wilson and Jason Garrett combined for just 11 completions for Dallas.
|New York Giants||6||10||0||.375||242||297||L2|
The Cowboys put the game away in the first half in exploding to a 30-0 lead and ultimately winning 40-15. The Cowboys forced six Vikings turnovers and put up 438 yards of offense.
The dynasty of the decade in essence ended in a 26-17 defeat to the second-year Panthers in their first ever playoff game. The week started ominously with sexual violence allegations against Michael Irvin and Erik Williams (later disproven). Irvin's weekend ended on the game's second play as he was brought down by Lamar Lathon and broke his collarbone. Deion Sanders was later injured on a tackle by Tyrone Poole as the Panthers clawed to a 23-17 lead in the fourth. Troy Aikman's final two possessions ended in interceptions as the game combined for just 471 yards of offense.