American Football: Cowboys are back in the saddle: New coach Switzer sees redoubtable Dallas pick up reins

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The Independent Online
WHEN Jimmy Johnson was asked what advice he would give Barry Switzer, the man who succeeded him as the head coach of the Dallas Cowboys, he said: 'Leave well alone.' The response contained a veiled insult, but Switzer knew too much about his sport to ignore its truth. He was, after all, inheriting the Super Bowl champions of the past two seasons.

As the Cowboys kicked off their 1994 season at Three Rivers Stadium in Pittsburgh on Sunday, Johnson was there to see if he had been taken at his word. Adopting the guise that now seems obligatory for virtually all former NFL coaches - television commentator - Johnson watched the team he built overwhelm the Steelers 26-9 with some naggingly familiar winning patterns.

Emmitt Smith rushed for 171 yards including a touchdown; Troy Aikman passed for 245 yards and the wide receiver Michael Irvin caught eight passes. Not to be outshone in front of a new boss the Dallas defense were equally devastating, sacking Neil O'Donnell, the Steelers quarterback, nine times. Almost the only original aspect of a victory that signals it is business as usual in the Big D was the four field goals from the rookie kicker Chris Boniol.

As has been his wont, Switzer was quick to credit his players. 'The Dallas Cowboys won because they are a team. They're not selfish. We do what got us here,' he said.

While Switzer got his NFL career off to a winning start, Dan Marino returned with a performance of characteristic brilliance. Marino, who suffered a season-ending Achilles tendon injury nearly a year ago, threw for five touchdowns and 473 yards in Miami's 39-35 defeat of New England. It was the sixth time Marino had passed for five or more TDs, but the first for nearly six years. His principal target was the wide receiver Irving Fryar who scored three touchdowns, including the game-winner, a 35- yarder on fourth down with a little over three minutes


The Patriots played their full part in a thrilling match, their quarterback Drew Bledsloe threwfourtouchdown passes, but there was no denying Marino his triumphant return. 'Dan is back,' Don Shula, the Dolphins head coach, said. 'I've never seen him more intense than he's been this week.'

Fortune was less generous to Randall Cunningham, the other franchise quarterback returning after a serious injury. Cunningham missed the final 12 games of last season with a broken leg, but despite passing for 344 yards and a couple of scores - including a 93-yarder to Herschel Walker - Philadelphia were always trailing as they lost to the New York Giants.

Opening-day surprises came from Indianapolis, who overwhelmed Houston 45-21 with the rookie running back Marshall Faulk rushing for 143 yards and three TDs, and Seattle who were easy winners in Washington. Buddy Ryan, the man charged with raising Arizona, will have been satisfied with his defense's first performance - restricting the Los Angeles Rams to 14 points - but less enamoured with an offense who notched only 12.

The result to raise the biggest cheer across the nation doubtless came from the Buffalo Bills who were trounced 23-3 at home by the New York Jets. After four successive failures in the Super Bowl few would welcome their appearance in a fifth. There is a long way to go, but the good news is Jim Kelly left the stadium with only a bruised right hand, while Thurman Thomas, restricted to five yards on seven carries, was nursing a bruised ego. 'You can't rush the ball really well every damn time you play a game,' he said.

NFL: Cleveland 28 Cincinnati 20; Houston 21 Indianapolis 45; NY Jets 23 Buffalo 3; New England 35 Miami 39; Philadelphia 23 NY Giants 28; Atlanta 28 Detroit 31 (OT); Minnesota 10 Green Bay 16; Tampa Bay 9 Chicago 21; Arizona 12 LA Rams 14; Kansas City 30 New Orleans 17; Seattle 28 Washington 7; Dallas 26 Pittsburgh 9; San Diego 37 Denver 34.