Feeling like they were a hand-picked foe set up for failure, the Ravens refused to play the stooge.
Matt Stover, who sold programs outside the stadium as a kid growing up in the area, kicked four field goals to wipe out an early deficit, then Willis McGahee and Le'Ron McClain ripped off long, record runs each time the Cowboys got close in the final minutes, sending Baltimore to a 33-24 victory on Saturday night and a step closer to the playoffs.
"It wasn't a homecoming game. It was more like a mock funeral," McGahee said. "We spoiled their day. It was probably the best concert ever in Irving, Texas."
Tony Romo tried to add one last memory to the long list of great games played under the hole in the roof, throwing touchdowns to Terrell Owens and Jason Witten in the final 3:50. Each score got the Cowboys within two points, but the Ravens refused to buckle.
On Baltimore's first snap after T.O.'s touchdown, McGahee broke through a line bunched up to stop the run and ran 77 yards for a touchdown. It was the longest of his career and it tied the longest ever by an opponent at Texas Stadium. McClain broke that record on the Ravens' next snap, going 82 yards for the longest touchdown of his career.
"We wanted to be party crashers," linebacker Terrell Suggs said. "I hope they enjoyed their little ceremony. I guess we were kind of like the dynamite."
The Ravens (10-5) bounced back from a controversial last-minute loss to Pittsburgh to win for the fourth time in five games. With only the AFC's sixth seed up for grabs, Baltimore is guaranteed of getting in with a victory over Jacksonville at home next weekend.
In addition to the homecoming theme, the Ravens also were motivated by Dallas offensive coordinator Jason Garrett opting to remain with the Cowboys after interviewing to become Baltimore's coach last offseason.
"I wonder what team he wishes he was coaching tonight?" Suggs said.
The Cowboys (9-6) lost for the second time in three weeks, rekindling talk of their December disasters. While they can still get an NFC wild-card berth, this loss makes it tougher. They'll go to Philadelphia next Sunday needing a win and, perhaps, some help. Dallas' loss clinched a playoff spot for the Carolina Panthers.
"We've got to come back next week, try to win 10 games and see what happens," Cowboys coach Wade Phillips said.
The loss combined with temperatures sinking from the mid-40s at kickoff to about the mid-20s certainly hurt the mood and attendance of the postgame party.
Only about half the crowd of 63,800 remained for the ceremony that featured introductions of about 100 former players, including 12 members of the Ring of Honor. Emmitt Smith, Roger Staubach and Jerry Jones were among the speakers.
Banners from the five Super Bowls won during their 37 seasons here, and another honoring Smith becoming the NFL's career rushing leader, were lowered from the rafters and will be moved to the new stadium, a $1.1 billion, 100,000-seat palace going up in nearby Arlington.
The Cowboys finished 213-100 in regular-season and postseason games at the home they moved into in 1971, going 6-2 this season.
"We wanted to add to the history, we wanted to add to the celebration," Owens said. "Obviously, we didn't do that. We made history, but not the way we wanted to."
The Cowboys jumped ahead 7-0 on a 2-yard touchdown by Tashard Choice, only the fourth rushing TD allowed by the Ravens all season. It was set up by DeMarcus Ware getting his NFL-leading 20th sack, which also caused Baltimore's Joe Flacco to fumble.
But Dallas couldn't build on it, mostly because Romo never got in sync the first three quarters. His struggles seemed more because of the Baltimore defense than the back injury that slowed him all week. He finished 24-of-45 for 252 yards, with two first-half interceptions. Ed Reed had both, tying for the NFL lead with seven. Steelers safety Troy Polamalu also has seven interceptions.
Baltimore went up 16-7 on Stover's kicks and a touchdown catch by Derrick Mason, who kept playing despite leaving twice with an aggravation of a dislocated left shoulder. Flacco was 17-of-25 for 149 yards and was sacked five times.
McLain finished with 22 carries for 139 yards and McGahee had eight carries for 108 yards. Dallas had given up only about 100 yards rushing until the victory-sealing runs.
Choice ran for 90 yards, among the most all season against Baltimore. Marion Barber had only two carries because of a dislocated right pinkie toe. ... This was the Ravens' first game here and, thus, they'll finish 1-0 at Texas Stadium. The Oakland-Los Angeles Raiders went 3-0 and are the only other NFL team not to lose under the hole in the roof. ... Stover, who also kicked four field goals in his only other career game here, went over 100 points for the 12th straight season. ... Ware is three sacks from breaking Michael Strahan's single-season NFL record.
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