IRVING, Texas (AP)—Not even Bill Parcells can keep the Dallas Cowboys from making the kind of mistakes that lead to losses.
Despite vowing to be more disciplined and to play smarter, the Cowboys were as sloppy as they were under coaches Dave Campo, Chan Gailey and Barry Switzer in losing 27-13 to the Atlanta Falcons on Sunday in their first game for Parcells.
Quincy Carter offset some big plays with a fumble and an ill-advised pass that was intercepted, while the rest of the offense made silly penalties. The defense went from a good first half to a porous second half. And kicker Billy Cundiff missed a short field goal and an extra point.
“That’s a recipe for disaster,” Parcells said.
Atlanta wasn’t great in its first game without Michael Vick, but replacement Doug Johnson was good enough. He drove the Falcons to 17 unanswered points, then responded to a late Dallas touchdown with a 14-play, 75-yard drive that he capped with a 1-yard plunge.
Winning with Vick watching from a coaches box with a broken leg was a huge relief for Atlanta. Owner Arthur Blank celebrated by hugging players on the sideline, the kind of display usually seen on the other sideline at Texas Stadium by Cowboys owner Jerry Jones.
“It is nice to start out the season 1-0 when everyone thought that we couldn’t,” said Falcons coach Dan Reeves. “I think my players are more confident with Doug now and this win has given us, as a team, more confidence for the rest of the season.”
Johnson overcame a 1-for-11 stretch to finish 16-of-27 for 228 yards with one interception and two touchdowns. The receivers made him look good on both scores.
Warrick Dunn dived to catch a low 7-yard pass near the goal line and flopped into the end zone, then Alge Crumpler rumbled 41 yards after Johnson drew the defense right and threw back to his left to the uncovered tight end.
As much as Parcells hated seeing his defense break down on those third-quarter scores, he kept his emotions in check. While coaching his first game since 1999, he mostly stood with his hands on his hips or behind his back, or crossed his arms after good plays and bad.
“I was a little surprised with the way we played,” said Parcells, hired in January to turn around a team that’s gone 5-11 for three straight seasons. “We’ve got a lot of work to do. We’ll see where we go from here.”
The Cowboys started strong for their new boss, getting a 63-yard touchdown run from newcomer Aveion Cason to lead 7-3 midway through the first quarter. After intercepting a pass by Johnson, Dallas reached the Atlanta 8 on a 48-yard pass from Carter to Joey Galloway.
Then the problems began.
A penalty wiped out that play, and Carter later threw an interception on the kind of impulse decision Parcells detests. Cundiff’s missed field goal left Dallas up only four at halftime.
The Falcons’ recovery was aided by great field position. They started three of their first four drives in the second half in Dallas territory, and scored on each to go ahead 20-7.
Carter lost a fumble on the third snap of the third quarter, then failed to get a first down until early in the fourth. On their final four drives, three started with penalties that pushed the Cowboys deep inside the 20.
Even after Carter hit Galloway for a 49-yard touchdown to make it 20-13 early in the fourth, Cundiff’s extra-point kick was blocked. Johnson answered with the long, slow, game-sealing touchdown drive.
“I’m just trying to hold it down and keep us in contention,” Johnson said. “I understand that role and I’m doing everything I can to keep us in playoff position.”
Carter’s final series reached the 2, but ended with a sack and two incompletions. He finished 15-of-32 for a career-high 268 yards.
How will Parcells respond?
“We don’t know what happens now,” said Galloway, who caught seven passesfor 139 yards. “We watch film tomorrow and we’ll find out.”
Peerless Price had only two catches for 30 yards in his Atlanta debut, one in the first quarter, then a spectacular 22-yard grab that set up the final touchdown. … Dallas lost its fourth straight opener. … Brian Finneran, the Falcons’ leading receiver last year, broke two bones in his left hand in the third quarter. … Dallas’ Troy Hambrick ran out for pregame introductions wearing a black cowboy hat, but backed it up with only 53 yards on 14 carries in his debut as Emmitt Smith’s replacement. … Cason’s run was the longest bya Cowboy in 30 games.