The 1991 Philadelphia Eagles were cursed.
That’s the only way to describe what happened when Green Bay Packers defensive end Bryce Paul smashed the crown of his helmet into the knee of Randall Cunningham, tearing Cunningham’s ACL and knocking him out for the season in the second quarter of the Eagles’ Week 1 win over the Green Bay Packers.
Nevertheless, there were some good moments during that what-could-have-been campaign.
The Birds came into 1991 with a new head coach, Rich Kotite, taking over for Buddy Ryan. Ryan had led the the Eagles to three straight postseason appearances but failed to get past the first round each time. After the ‘90 season, then-owner Norman Braman turned to Buddy’s offensive coordinator to take the reigns of a supremely talented team with one of the best defenses in the league, and hired guru Bud Carson to be the new team’s defensive coordinator.
Meanwhile, the Cowboys had finished the ‘90 season at 7-9 in Jimmy Johnson and Troy Aikman’s second season, seemingly on track for a potential playoff berth until the Eagles slammed Aikman into the turf and separated his shoulder in Week 16.
One season later, both teams had postseason aspirations and came into their Week 3 match-up at 1-1. With Cunningham on the shelf, Jim McMahon got the start and the Birds built up a quick 17-0 lead thanks to a TD pass to Fred Barnett, a Roger Ruzek field goal and a Robert Drummond 1 yard run that was aided by another deep bomb from McMahon to Barnett.
Meanwhile, the Eagles’ defense was turning up the pressure on Aikman.
In the first half alone, Aikman was intercepted three times, once by linebacker Seth Joyner and twice by safety Rich Miano. In all, Aikman went 4-for-10 with those three picks before the two teams left the field for halftime.
It would get worse from there.
The Eagles’ pressure on Aikman was relentless. Just watch these highlights. They are savage.
Aikman was sacked 11 times. Read that again... ELEVEN times. Clyde Simmons recorded 4.5 sacks on his own, which established a new Eagles record at the time (Hugh Douglas tied that record against the Chargers in 1998). Defensive tackle Jerome Brown added 2.5, Mike Golic had 2.0, while Mike Pitts and Reggie White had one apiece.
It’s kind of funny Reggie, perhaps the greatest defensive end of all time, only had one, but his pressures from Aikman’s right forced him left and into the arms of Simmons on a number of those sacks.
Those 11 sacks are an Eagles record, although the sack wasn’t an “official” NFL statistic until the 1982 season. Prior to that, it’s highly likely other teams had more. However, since ‘82, those 11 sacks are tied for second-most in a game behind the 12 sacks recorded by five teams (including the New York Giants against the Birds in September of 2007).
The Eagles won 24-0. It was a beautiful slaughter.
Some other nuggets from this all-too-fun match-up.
- Dallas had 90 yards of total offense, lowest in franchise history.
- Almost 24 minutes went by before Dallas could manage a first down and the Cowboys did not cross midfield until the final 2:43 of the game.
- The Cowboys entered the game as the NFC’s leading offensive team.
- It was the eighth straight win for the Eagles over Dallas.
- Aikman finished 11-for-25, 112 yards, 3 INTs, 11 sacks, and a 17.8 rating.
- Emmit Smith had 13 carries 44 yards.
- McMahon was 18-of-29 for 207 yards, 2 TDs, and a 106.5 rating.
Of course, the Cowboys would get their revenge in Week 16 as the two teams, both 9-5, battled at Veterans Stadium. The winner would go to the playoffs and the loser would stay home. It was essentially a playoff game right then and there and, unfortunately, the Eagles were forced to start Jeff Kemp at QB, with Cunningham and McMahon both on the shelf.
Despite leading late in the 4th quarter, Dallas got a back-breaking kickoff return touchdown from Kelvin Martin and scored 17 points in the final quarter to win, 25-13. The Eagles would miss the playoffs, Dallas got in, lost in the divisional round, and a dynasty was born. However, Bud Carson’s crew would become the first defense in NFL history to lead the league in both rushing defense and passing defense, cementing itself as one of the greatest, and underrated, units of all time.
It would be only fitting for the Birds to do it all again tonight, to Dak Prescott, 30 years later, on Monday Night Football.
Here’s the entire Week 3 game if you’ve got a couple hours to kill!
We also touched on this game in this week’s edition of Eye On The Enemy: