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Cowboys 34, Rams 31

August 16, 1997

IRVING, Texas (AP) _ It appears the Dallas offense will have to score a lot of points this year in order for the Cowboys to be successful.

Troy Aikman threw a TD pass, rookie cornerback Kevin Mathis had a touchdown off an interception return and Herschel Walker showed he can still find the end zone as the Cowboys outlasted the St. Louis Rams 34-31 Friday night in an NFL exhibition game.

``All I know is we can’t go to Pittsburgh and play like this in two weeks,″ Dallas coach Barry Switzer said. ``We couldn’t run the football. And we couldn’t stop their receivers. ″

Emmitt Smith made his 1997 debut for Dallas but could gain only 24 yards on 12 carries. And Mathis was burned in coverage several times.

``It was a comedy,″ Smith said. ``We didn’t play well. At times it looked like 1996 all over again. We snapped the ball on the wrong count and made a lot of other mistakes. I was rusty and didn’t run the ball well.″

The Cowboys (1-2), using the first half as a dress rehearsal for their season opener on Aug. 30 against Pittsburgh, showed good offense, solid special teams play and slipshod pass defense.

St. Louis coach Dick Vermeil said the Rams have a long way to go.

``I was disappointed we couldn’t run the ball and that we couldn’t stop their passing game,″ Vermeil said. ``They dominated us throwing the ball. We got to do better coaching. ″

It was a special teams play, a blocked punt by Billy Davis for a safety, that turned around a 10-3 deficit for Dallas.

St. Louis (1-2) built a 10-0 lead on a 38-yard field goal by Jeff Wilkins and a 33-yard Tony Banks-to-Eddie Kennison touchdown pass on which Mathis was beaten.

``Kennison can make the big play for you,″ Vermeil said.

After Richie Cunningham kicked a 34-yard field goal for the Cowboys, Davis blocked a punt by Will Brice out of the end zone for a safety.

Then the Cowboys struck for two touchdowns in eight seconds. Aikman threw an 8-yard TD pass to tight end Eric Bjornson, and on the next play from scrimmage, Banks was picked off by Mathis, who returned the interception 27 yards for a touchdown.

Banks then burned Mathis with eight seconds left on the clock, hitting Kennison on another 33-yard scoring pass.

The 95-degree heat got to Aikman, who became dehydrated and was given an intravenous at halftime. Aikman wasn’t going to play the second half anyway after hitting 14 of 25 passes for 160 yards, including seven tosses to Michael Irvin for 90 yards.

``With all the talent we have when you have that mental mistakes it’s real disappointing,″ Aikman said. ``We’ve got to eliminate the mistakes and take more pride in what we’re doing.″

In the fourth quarter, Walker scored on a 13-yard run and third-string quarterback Jason Garrett hooked up with Davis on a 59-yard pass-and-run after cornerback Dexter McCleon gambled and lost on an out pattern. Davis had eight catches for 148 yards.

Third-string St. Louis quarterback Will Furrer hit Kevin Lee on a 23-yard touchdown pass over Mathis in the fourth period. Mathis got toasted again with 2:17 to go on a 62-yard Furrer-to-J.T. Thomas scoring pass.

However, Furrer, made a gaffe with 17 seconds to go by downing the ball on fourth and 10 at the Dallas 46.

Kennison caught three passes for 78 yards and Banks was 9-of-16 for 160 yards.