American Football: Eagles the latest to be conquered by the Cowboys: Smith makes certain that it is business as usual under the new management in Dallas. Matt Tench reports

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AS THE Dallas Cowboys began their celebrations in Atlanta last January, the issue that immediately haunted the rest of the league was whether someone, anyone, could possibly stop them winning a third successive Super Bowl. Nine turbulent months and one head coach later the question persists.

The 27 other teams in the National Football League were entitled to take heart in the spring when Jerry Jones and Jimmy Johnson (respectively owner and head coach of the Cowboys) parted company in a divorce which made Roseanne Arnold's look amicable. A few eyebrows were then raised when Jones appointed Barry Switzer, a college coach with a tarnished image, to be Johnson's replacement.

But as the 1994 season approaches its half-way point, it is clear that normal service has been resumed in Big D. An over-time defeat by Detroit, when they succumbed to the astonishing Barry Sanders, is the only blemish on their record, and one they appear to have put well behind them.

Johnson, we may surmise, does not necessarily wish his successor well. Now a TV commentator, he pronounced himself 'shocked' last month when he heard that Switzer had missed a Saturday night team meeting to watch his son play college football. Switzer bridled at the remark, and pointedly referred to Johnson's admission that he had placed footballing commitments above family duty. 'As I told my team, if there was anything that I could do on Saturday night that would make a difference in the ballgame I would be there. But Jimmy and I know there isn't,' Switzer said at the time.

Jones, typically, lept to the defence of his new coach and poured fuel on the fire. 'That's vintage Jimmy,' he said. 'There's some bitterness there.

His deal wasn't really coaching, it was personnel.'

The bit about coaching was no doubt news to Johnson, but to their credit the team refused to be distracted by the spat, and got on with the business of winning.

Sunday's victory, 24-13 over the Philadelphia Eagles, was particularly pleasing. A fortnight ago the Eagles dismantled the 49ers in San Francisco, but another 100-yard game from Emmitt Smith, and four interceptions of the Eagles quarterback Randall Cunningham, ensured a similar shock was not repeated in Dallas.

The 49ers were on the right end of a 40-point scoreline this week, crushing the Atlanta Falcons 42-3 in their own back-yard. The game marked a triumphant homecoming for 'Neon' Deion Sanders, who established his reputation as the league's greatest cornerback with the Falcons.

Sanders began badly. He was involved in a fight with his old friend and colleague Andre Rison in the first quarter, and was penalised 15 yards for a personal foul. He soon got better, and the highlight of another memorable display was a 93-yard touchdown interception return. Even Rison forgave him, and the two embraced as the game finished.

'This is my house. I built it. And this will always be my house whether I'm with the Falcons or not,' Sanders said, with characteristic modesty. 'It was very unfortunate for two guys to get in a fight like that. I'm sorry, very sorry.'

San Diego remain the league's last unbeaten team, a 36-22 win in New Orleans emphasing the solidity of their start to the season. Cincinnati, too, have a 100 per cent record. Defeat in Pittsburgh was their sixth in six outings.

NFL: San Francisco 42 at Atlanta 3; Indianapolis 27 at Buffalo 17; LA Raiders 17 at Miami 20 (ot); New England 17 at NY Jets 24; Cincinnati 10 at Pittsburgh 14; Arizona 19 at Washington 16 (ot); Philadelphia 13 at Dallas 24; NY Giants 10 at LA Rams 17; San Diego 36 at New Orleans 22. Did not play: Chicago, Detroit, Green Bay, Minnesota, Seattle, Tampa Bay.

---------------------------------------------------------------- NFL DIVISIONAL STANDINGS ---------------------------------------------------------------- AMERICAN CONFERENCE Eastern Division W L T F A Miami 5 2 0 180 146 Buffalo 4 3 0 134 143 NY Jets 4 3 0 116 122 Indianapolis 3 4 0 140 145 New England 3 4 0 175 183 Central Division Cleveland 5 1 0 129 66 Pittsburgh 4 2 0 114 111 Houston 1 5 0 87 134 Cincinnati 0 6 0 88 143 Western Division San Diego 6 0 0 170 106 Kansas City 3 2 0 90 80 Seattle 3 3 0 130 86 LA Raiders 2 4 0 133 161 Denver 1 4 0 108 146 NATIONAL CONFERENCE Eastern Division Dallas 5 1 0 159 69 Philadelphia 4 2 0 140 106 NY Giants 3 3 0 121 134 Arizona 2 4 0 68 127 Washington 1 6 0 128 184 Central Division Chicago 4 2 0 113 108 Minnesota 4 2 0 134 95 Green Bay 3 3 0 107 84 Detroit 2 4 0 106 129 Tampa Bay 2 4 0 80 118 Western Division San Francisco 5 2 0 196 134 Atlanta 4 3 0 141 154 LA Rams 3 4 0 101 119 New Orleans 2 5 0 119 174 ---------------------------------------------------------------- (Photograph omitted)