The Browns were stopped short on their way to Texas Stadium on Dec. 10, 1994.
But once the Browns arrived there, they were able to stop the two-time defending Super Bowl champion Dallas Cowboys just short, holding on by the skin of their teeth to win 19-14 in a nationally-televised Saturday afternoon game before 64,826 fans.
The victory was secured when free safety Eric Turner tackled Jay Novacek inches away from the goal line as time expired after the tight end had caught a five-yard pass from quarterback Troy Aikman.
The win, coupled with the Buffalo Bills’ loss to the Minnesota Vikings that weekend, clinched the Browns’ first playoff berth in five years.
Trailing, 19-14, the Cowboys took over at their 49 -- their best field position all day -- with 1:49 left in the game. Needing a touchdown to win, they worked their way down the field, getting to the Cleveland six with 10 seconds remaining.
But instead of throwing to wide receiver Michael Irvin, his go-to man on the day with seven catches for 88 yards, or running back Emmitt Smith, who had five receptions for 22 yards and a touchdown along with 112 rushing yards and a score, Aikman tried to fool the Browns. He went to Novacek, a forgotten man in the game with but one catch for five yards, on a slant route.
Novacek caught the ball, put his head down and prepared to use his large frame to bull his way into the end zone. But he slipped on the wet artificial surface as he approached the goal line, and Turner, who was headed to his first Pro Bowl, pounced on him to make sure he stayed down.
The win over the Cowboys, who dealt the Browns a 26-14 loss at Cleveland in Bill Belichick’s first game as coach in 1991, improved the team to 10-4 and kept it in the hunt with the Pittsburgh Steelers for the AFC Central championship. It was much needed since the Browns had lost two of their last three games, slowing down the momentum they had gained from an 8-2 start, their best since 1965.
It also was the Browns’ first win over the Cowboys at Texas Stadium, and their first regular-season victory at Dallas since 1965 when the Cowboys were still playing at the Cotton Bowl. The last time the Browns had beaten the Cowboys at Dallas overall was in the 1969 Eastern Conference Championship Game at the Cotton Bowl.
It was a great ending to what had started out as a bad day for the Browns. One of their team buses was broad-sided by a small car on the way to the stadium. No one on the bus was hurt, but the passengers’ arrival at the stadium was delayed after having to board another bus.
The Cowboys, who had won three straight and nine of 10, fell to 11-3. They would go on to capture the NFC East crown with a 12-4 record and, following a victory over coach Mike Holmgren’s Green Bay Packers in the divisional round, lost to the eventual Super Bowl champion San Francisco 49ers in the conference title game.
Vinny Testaverde, who completed 15 consecutive passing attempts -- the second-longest streak ever by a Browns quarterback -- in late-season games the Los Angeles Rams and Pittsburgh in 1993, began the contest by hitting on his first seven throws. He finished 15-of-25 for 118 yards and a touchdown with one interception.
Running back Leroy Hoard, who made his first Pro Bowl that season, had 99 yards rushing in 25 attempts.
The Browns began the game impressively, putting together what looked like it would be a 68-yard TD drive. But they fumbled the ball at the Dallas 1, and Cowboys linebacker Robert Jones recovered in the end zone for a touchback.
Aikman, who threw for just 188 yards and was intercepted twice, by Turner and veteran cornerback Don Griffin, marched the Cowboys 80 yards the other way for a score on a seven-yard pass to Smith.
The Browns tied it 7-7 as Testaverde threw a two-yard “alley-oop” pass to 6-foot-4 wide receiver Michael Jackson as time expired in the first quarter. Jackson had six catches overall for 74 yards.
Then Matt Stover, who was emerging as one of the best kickers in the game, went to work. He hit three straight field goals -- a 34-yarder early in the second quarter and 32- and 43-yarders less than two minutes apart at the beginning of the fourth quarter -- to give the Browns a 16-7 lead.
Smith ran four yards for a touchdown with 6:21 left to draw the Cowboys to within 16-14.
The Cowboys committed the last of their four turnovers on the day, fumbling the ball away to defensive tackle Bill Johnson at the Dallas 17 on a bad exchange behind Aikman and center Mark Stepnoski on a fourth-and-one play. With little time left, the Cowboys, though only two points behind, eschewed the punt and went for the first down, fearing that if they kicked, they might not get the ball back.
The fumble set up another Stover field goal -- a 32-yarder with 1:49 remaining -- to up the lead to 19-14 and force Dallas to go for the touchdown. It gave Stover 26 field goals on the season, a team record. Three of the Cowboys’ turnovers resulted in Stover field goals.
Dallas got one last crack to score after the ensuing kickoff, but the Browns held on -- by inches -- for the important victory as they went on to make the postseason as a wild card with an 11-5 record, beat the New England Patriots in the opener and then lose in the divisional round to Pittsburgh.