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San Francisco 49ers Win Eighth Straight Game, Defeat Dallas Cowboys 17-10, Move to the Top of

November 3, 1997

San Francisco 49ers Win Eighth Straight Game, Defeat Dallas Cowboys 17-10, Move to the Top of the NFCBy DENNIS GEORGATOS

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) _ The San Francisco 49ers validated their return to the top of the NFC with their eighth straight win. The Dallas Cowboys were left to confront their image as a weakened, crumbling team.

Relying on a series of defensive stands, capped by Tim McDonald’s interception of Troy Aikman in the final moments, the 49ers beat the Cowboys 17-10 Sunday.

No championship trip or playoff seeding was on the line this time between the two teams, who have met six times in the NFC championship game and have 10 Super Bowl titles between them.

San Francisco (8-1), tied with Denver for the best record in the league, is running away with the NFC West while the Cowboys (4-5) face a struggle in their last seven games just to qualify for the playoffs.

``It’s a different kind of feeling, a feeling you really can’t describe,″ said Dallas’ Emmitt Smith, knocked out in the second quarter by a groin strain. ``I think our team is still confident. I just don’t know if we’re performing to our ability.″

San Francisco, whose record was viewed skeptically because it was built against losing teams within its own division, said the victory over Dallas showed the 49ers were for real.

``Everybody said we hadn’t played anybody, so we looked forward to going out there and getting a win,″ said San Francisco wide receiver J.J. Stokes, whose leaping catch set up the 49ers’ decisive fourth-quarter score. ``I think the team just had to dig down and fight.″

McDonald, epitomizing a defensive effort that frustrated every effort by the Cowboys to get back in the game, intercepted Aikman’s pass to end Dallas’ last-ditch drive.

The 49ers survived a scare two plays earlier when the officials retracted what looked to be a pass interference call in the end zone on Rod Woodson. He appeared to trip up Michael Irvin before he could make the potential game-tying catch.

In picking up the flag, the officials explained that the two players feet tangled and there was no foul.

A flag that wasn’t waved off also hurt the Cowboys, three-time Super Bowl winners in the ’90s who face a struggle in their last seven games just to qualify for the postseason.

Defensive end Shante Carver was called for encroachment late in the third quarter, negating what would have been Deion Sanders’ second interception of Steve Young.

Garrison Hearst carried the offensive load for the 49ers, running for 104 yards and a touchdown. William Floyd also scored on a 1-yard run.

San Francisco’s top-ranked defense paved the way for the 49ers’ go-ahead touchdown by Floyd with 5:57 remaining. Dana Stubblefield’s second sack of Aikman backed the Cowboys inside their own 5 and punter Toby Gowin, standing in his own end zone, shanked the kick off the side of his foot.

Even after a holding penalty, San Francisco took over on the Dallas 39. J.J. Stokes, a step behind Kevin Smith, stretched out to make a leaping catch at the 1, and Floyd went in for the score on the next play.

``The kicking game collapsed in the fourth quarter and created terrible field position. That was a killer,″ Dallas coach Barry Switzer said. ``We have a fine football team and it’s a shame we continue to make critical mistakes.″

The 49ers added Gary Anderson’s 28-yard field goal with 2:15 remaining, set up by Iheanyi Uwaezuoke’s 34-yard punt return.

Dallas, with the league’s second-worst touchdown scoring percentage inside an opponent’s 20-yard line, saw another drive stall just short of the goal-line.

Despite getting a 54-yard completion to Anthony Miller that reached the San Francisco 6, the 49ers defense held, stuffing two runs from the 1 by Sherman Williams. That forced Dallas to settle for Richie Cunningham’s 21-yard field goal and a 10-7 lead with 4:26 left in the third quarter.

``There wasn’t any letdown and there wasn’t any panic,″ first-year San Francisco coach Steve Mariucci said of the 49ers, shutout in the first half for the first time this season. ``Probably the biggest play of the game was when we kept them out of the end zone. They just get a field goal out of it and our crowd goes crazy.″

The 49ers trailed 7-0 at the half.It was the first time in nine meetings between the teams in this decade that the leader at halftime did not win the game.

San Francisco tied the game, starting the third quarter with a 77-yard touchdown drive. An 18-yard completion to Uwaezuoke, who fumbled earlier, gave San Francisco a first down at the Dallas 1. A broken play pushed San Francisco back to the 8 but Hearst, sprung by tight end Greg Clark’s block, broke through for a touchdown.

The Cowboys forced San Francisco into its second turnover when Kevin Smith stripped the ball from Uwaezuoke following a 6-yard reception and Darren Woodson recovered at the Dallas 17.

San Francisco’s first turnover led to Aikman’s scoring pass to Irvin late in the first period.

Deion Sanders, reading a screen pass from his corner position, swooped into the backfield for the interception and nearly scored himself before being brought down by Young after a 31-yard return to the San Francisco 33. Sanders was flipped over by the tackle but bounced up to celebrate, thrusting his arm skyward.

Aikman, shaken up on the previous series when he was sacked on consecutive plays, came back to throw a 5-yard scoring pass to Irvin.