Cowboys hope to learn from history

ARLINGTON, Texas -- The clock reads 5:23. The offense has the ball on its 2-yard line and is trailing by seven points in the fourth quarter.

Cleveland Stadium was packed with 79,915 fans on Jan. 11, 1987; only a smattering of fans are inside Cowboys Stadium to watch practice on Tuesday.

The Jerry World field is pristine; not chewed up like the old Dawg Pound. The temperature has soared to more than 100 degrees outside but is comfortable and in the 70s inside; it's not like the cold and gray day next to Lake Erie back in '87.

There are no dog bones anywhere to be found.

Neither is John Elway.

But if you have a feel for NFL history you can sense what Jason Garrett is trying to replicate.

It's The Drive in the AFC Championship Game between the Denver Broncos and Cleveland Browns. Elway took the Broncos 98 yards in 15 plays and threw a touchdown pass to tie the game with 37 seconds to play.

Denver won in overtime to earn a spot in Super Bowl XXI.

Situational football has been one of Garrett's main focuses in his first training camp as Dallas Cowboys head coach. Games are won and lost in the fourth quarter in the NFL, and in just about every practice Garrett has put his team in different situations to see how they react.

"I think the thing we've tried to emphasize is you want to create a real live two-minute drill," Garrett said. "We want to create a real live four-minute drill. We want to create a real life red zone or whatever the situation is as opposed to just slapping it around and say, 'OK, let's get out there. How many timeouts we got?' That kind of a deal. We want to be very specific about the situation so we can recreate it and try to get the most out of the situation for our players.

"Will we ever be able to completely recreate a game situation? No. But we're going to try our best in practice in all that we do, and I think all of those situational periods have been really good for us so far because not only have we created an initial situation, but a lot of situations arise within those situations that can be helpful to our entire football team, as well."

Garrett has shown his team highlights of several famous drives from NFL history.

The first two-minute drill of training camp inside the Alamodome came from Super Bowl XLII between the New York Giants and New England Patriots. The Patriots had a 14-10 lead with 2:39 to play, but then David Tyree became famous for pinning an Eli Manning pass to his helmet after the quarterback scrambled away from trouble.

Manning capped the drive with a 13-yard touchdown pass to Plaxico Burress to end New England's run at a perfect season.

They recreated the Ice Bowl (some call it the 1967 NFL Championship), albeit without the wind chill, with the Green Bay Packers trailing the Cowboys 17-14 and 68 yards away from the end zone with 4:50 to play.

Tony Romo did not score on a keeper like Bart Starr did to crush the feelings of Tom Landry, his players and the fans, but Romo, the rest of the offense and the Cowboys' defense were in a situation they will see at some point in the regular season.

"You either win games on offense or lose games on defense in two-minute situations," defensive end Marcus Spears said. "Both y'all have got to be equally as good, and if you gave two sides that can produce in those situations you've got a big chance of winning.

"The thing he's trying to get across is that it happens every year in the league. It doesn't matter if it's 1971 or 2011, those same situations are going to happen in football. If you can go and look at film and then find yourself in that situation, you've got some recall there."

But it's not just Tyree's catch or Elway's touchdown throw or Starr's keeper. The Giants' winning drive was 12 plays; Denver's drive was 15; Green Bay's was 12.

"It's the six other plays that got you to fourth-and-1 and you keep the drive going on a dive up the middle," Pro Bowl tight end Jason Witten said. "Every play matters, not just the big one. It takes everybody. That's the message he's sending."

Said Spears: "Maybe if one of those guys from New England holds on to Eli and sacks him, that doesn't happen. It's all those elements."

Garrett said situational football was something he thought about during his playing career and it was a tactic Nick Saban used in Miami when he was the Dolphins' quarterbacks coach. It is nothing new, but the specifics that Garrett has brought to practice are different than what happened under Wade Phillips and Bill Parcells.

"I just think that if you look at the history of the NFL, very particularly in recent years and there's been so much parity within the teams, that fourth quarters are huge," Garrett said. "But I think that's been the case for a long, long time. So you need to be in great condition. You need to be able to handle situational football. We just need to keep working on it and getting better and better at it."

Maybe one day he will even put dog bones on the field.

Todd Archer covers the Cowboys for ESPNDallas.com.