|1991 Dallas Cowboys season|
|Head Coach||Jimmy Johnson|
|Home Field||Texas Stadium|
|Place||2nd NFC East|
|Playoff Finish||Won Wild Card Playoffs (at Bears) 17–13|
Lost Divisional Playoffs (at Lions) 38–6
|Previous season||Next season|
This year would mark the Cowboys' return to the playoffs after a number of seasons, including a 1–15 campaign just two years prior. This also marked Norv Turner's first year as offensive coordinator under head coach Jimmy Johnson. The young offensive nucleus of Troy Aikman, Michael Irvin and Emmitt Smith continued to develop, as did the offensive line, while the defense also improved. Though the Cowboys would lose in the playoffs to the Detroit Lions in the divisional round, the season was considered a resounding success, and a glimpse of things to come. Notable additions to the team this year include defensive tackle Russell Maryland, wide receiver Alvin Harper, offensive tackle Erik Williams and linebacker Dixon Edwards.
The season began with a strong victory over Cleveland and a close Monday night loss to Washington. However, in game 3, the Cowboys were defeated at home by Philadelphia, 24–0. The Eagles sacked Troy Aikman 11 times and served notice that the Cowboys were still behind the "contenders" in the NFC East. A narrow victory the next week over Arizona did little to change that contention. However, in Week 5, the Cowboys upset the defending Super Bowl champion Giants (snapping a 6 game losing streak to the Giants). The momentum from the Giants win carried the Cowboys to 3 wins in the next 4 games (the only loss being a turnover plagued loss at Detroit) to move to 6–3.
However, the Cowboys lost to the Oilers in overtime (The Cowboys were driving close to field goal range in the overtime period when Emmitt Smith committed a rare fumble). The next week, they lost at the Giants in a game Jimmy Johnson said was "officiated as poorly" as any he had ever coached in. At 6–5, the playoff chances seemed in serious jeopardy, especially with their upcoming opponent being a road game against the undefeated (and eventual super bowl champion) Washington Redskins. However, Jimmy Johnson presented a gambling game plan for the Redskins game (including a first-half onsides kick, several decisions to "go for it" on 4th down at unusual times, and opting to throw for the end zone on the final play of the first half even though the team was within field goal range at the Redskins 34. Alvin Harper made the catch for a TD). The gambling game plan worked and the Cowboys completed a titanic 24–21 upset of the Redskins. Troy Aikman was injured in the Redskins game and was replaced early in the 2nd half by Steve Beuerlein (who had been signed late in the pre-season so as to avoid the problems at backup QB that plagued the Cowboys late in the 1990 season).
Aikman's injury was serious enough for him to miss the rest of the Regular Season. After the Washington win, Beuerlein led the Cowboys to 4 straight victories to end the season. The 11–5 record was good enough to earn a wildcard playoff berth. In most of the games, the Beuerlein-led offense was limited in passing yardage but the passing offense avoided serious mistakes and was helped by strong defensive performances and by Emmitt Smith, who finished the season with his first NFL rushing title. The biggest win of the Cowboys late-season streak was a 25–13 win road win over the Philadelphia Eagles. It snapped a 7 game losing streak to the Eagles in "non-replacement games and avenged the 24–0 loss back in week 3. In fairness, the Eagles were down to their third quarterback for this game (starter Randall Cunningham was lost for the season in week 1 and Jim McMahon, who had led the Eagles to their earlier win over Dallas, was also injured, leaving the reins to Jeff Kemp).
- Dallas led the NFC in special teams effectiveness and ranked second in the NFL behind the Los Angeles Raiders.
- It led the league in special teams touchdowns (3) and average kickoff return (21.7 yards).
- The Cowboys placed a player in the top three in the NFL in both punt and kickoff return averages in the same season for the first time in team history. In addition, Alexander Wright's 102 yard kickoff return against the Atlanta Falcons and Kelvin Martin's 85 yard punt return against the Philadelphia Eagles were NFL season-bests.
- Kicker Ken Willis tied a club record with 27 field goals and set another with four 50-yarders.
- Punter Mike Saxon finished tied for fourth in the NFL with a career best 36.8 yard net average.
- Blocked three punts, returning one for a touchdown against the Houston Oilers.
- The special teams also recovered an onside kick against the Washington Redskins, forced a safety and recovered two punts fumbled by opponents.
Amid making the playoffs for the first time since 1985, there was controversy at the quarterback position. Troy Aikman was considered healthy enough to return for the playoffs. However, Beuerlein hadn't lost as a starter and there was an argument for "riding the hot hand". The "hot hand" argument won and Jimmy Johnson made the decision to play Beuerlein in the wildcard playoff game against the Chicago Bears and the Cowboys won a hard fought 17–13 decision at Soldier Field. It was the team's first playoff win since 1982 and first road playoff win since 1980.
After the Chicago win, some thought the Cowboys were Super Bowl contenders (since they had beaten the NFC favorite Redskins at RFK Stadium during the regular season, there was a belief they could do it again if they met the Redskins in the NFC Championship). However, the Cowboys would first have to beat Detroit at the Silverdome, where the Lions had not lost in 1991.
Heading into the Detroit game, the QB controversy continued as the Cowboys prepared for their divisional playoff game. Pressure was mounting to return Aikman to the lineup but Beuerlein was announced as the starter. Beuerlein started but Aikman would replace Beuerlein late in the first half with the Cowboys trailing 17–6. The other main issue in the Detroit game was stopping the Lions' running back Barry Sanders, one of the great players in the NFL. When the game began, the Cowboys defense did an excellent job stopping Sanders, holding him to one of his lowest outputs of the season. However, the Cowboys were torched by unheralded Lions quarterback Erik Kramer through the air and gave up 38 points. The final score was Detroit 38 Dallas 6.
|Pick #||NFL Team||Player||Position||College|
|1||Dallas Cowboys||Russell Maryland||Defensive Tackle||Miami|
|1||September 1, 1991||at Cleveland Browns||W 26–14|
|2||September 9, 1991||Washington Redskins||L 33–31|
|3||September 15, 1991||Philadelphia Eagles||L 24–0|
|4||September 22, 1991||at Phoenix Cardinals||W 17–9|
|5||September 29, 1991||New York Giants||W 21–16|
|6||October 6, 1991||at Green Bay Packers||W 20–17|
|7||October 13, 1991||Cincinnati Bengals||W 35–23|
|9||October 27, 1991||at Detroit Lions||L 34–10|
|10||November 3, 1991||Phoenix Cardinals||W 27–7|
|11||November 10, 1991||at Houston Oilers||L 26–23|
|12||November 17, 1991||at New York Giants||L 22–9|
|13||November 24, 1991||at Washington Redskins||W 24–21|
|14||November 28, 1991||Pittsburgh Steelers||W 20–10|
|15||December 8, 1991||New Orleans Saints||W 23–14|
|16||December 15, 1991||at Philadelphia Eagles||W 25–13|
|17||December 22, 1991||Atlanta Falcons||W 31–27|
|Wildcard||December 29, 1991||at Chicago Bears||W 17–13|
|Division||January 5, 1992||at Detroit Lions||L 38–6|
|New York Giants||8||8||0||.500||281||297|
Dallas Cowboys 17, Chicago Bears 13|
NFC Divisional Playoff
Detroit Lions 38, Dallas Cowboys 6|
|Dallas Cowboys 1991 roster|
Rookies in italics