Laurie Phillips had planned to sit with her friends in the stands at Ralph Wilson Stadium that night in October 2007. Tom and Cynthia Murphy were longtime Buffalo Bills season-ticket holders, and the wife of the Dallas Cowboys‘ head coach was going to watch the Monday Night Football game with her closest friends.
But then Cowboys owner and general manager Jerry Jones made an offer: How about everyone sit in the owner’s suite at the game?
“They would disown me if I didn’t sit with them,” Laurie said, thinking back to the Cowboys’ 4-0 start. “[Jones] said, ‘No, no. We’ve been doing so well and you’ve been sitting with us, so just have them sit with us in the box.'”
ESPN, in partnership with the NFL, presents some of the greatest MNF games in history. (All games begin at 8 p.m. ET)
March 30: Kansas City Chiefs vs. Los Angeles Rams (2018)
April 6: Atlanta Falcons vs. New Orleans Saints (2006)
April 13: Green Bay Packers vs. Minnesota Vikings (2009)
April 20: Indianapolis Colts vs. New England Patriots (2005)
April 27: Dallas Cowboys vs. Buffalo Bills (2007)
“No, [Jones is] not superstitious,” Wade Phillips joked. “Just in case you were wondering.”
What everyone saw on the field that night was one of the most memorable games in Cowboys history as well as Monday Night Football history. In fact, something happened in that game that has never happened before or since. The Cowboys became the first team in NFL history to overcome a minus-5 turnover differential, two interceptions returned for touchdowns and a kickoff return for a touchdown to win.
“It’s one of the great last-second wins that you can think of,” said Phillips, who was in his first year as the Cowboys’ coach. “You just don’t see that many games where somebody scores, what, nine points in the last 20 seconds to win.”
For Phillips, it was his second game back in Buffalo since being let go as the Bills’ head coach after the 2000 season. He served as the Bills’ defensive coordinator before being hired to take over for Marv Levy in 1998, and then he went 29-19 in three seasons and made the playoffs twice as Buffalo’s coach.
If Phillips, as the Cowboys’ coach, held any animosity toward Buffalo or wanted to win that game any more than another, he did not tell the players about it.
“I’m pretty certain he never brought it up, but everybody knew,” said Bobby Carpenter, who was a second-year linebacker in 2007. “Guys who’ve been around the league, they know what it’s like to go back to a place you’ve been traded from or released from. The guys may have been pressing because Wade’s one of the most likable guys you’ll meet, and everybody wanted to put on a show for him, that he was done wrong. They were a playoff team when he was there. If not for the Music City Miracle, maybe they would’ve been in a Super Bowl.
“But I’m certain he never brought up going back to Buffalo.”
“I kid about each game being a revenge game for me because I coached in all those places,” Phillips said. “But I don’t pay attention to that stuff. I really don’t. It’s not about me. It’s about the players, that year’s team, what they can do against their team they’re going against.”
To start the game, Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo’s first pass attempt was intercepted and returned for a touchdown 25 yards by George Wilson. Romo’s second pass attempt was intercepted, too. His 10th pass of the game was good for a touchdown to tight end Jason Witten, but his 11th pass attempt was batted in the air and returned for a score by Buffalo’s Chris Kelsay.
Romo’s 13th pass attempt was also intercepted. Count ’em — four interceptions by the Bills in one half.
This Week 5 game was only the 10th regular-season start of Romo’s career. He was far from established.
“But guys saw in practice,” Carpenter said. “They knew [Romo] had that edge. It might cost you a time or two, but he’d also make a pass and you’d turn and look and say, ‘Wow, not too many guys would have attempted that, let alone completed it.’ That’s why everybody had that belief, but I’m sure guys were thinking, ‘Gosh, Tony, let’s ease up on some of those.'”
With the Cowboys trailing 24-16 with 5:33 to play, Romo was intercepted for the fifth and final time. Truth be told, he could have been intercepted seven times. He also lost a fumble, but coordinator Jason Garrett has often called this one of the quarterback’s best games because of how he persevered through the mistakes.
“Sometimes I look at things differently than most,” Garrett said in 2015 in the Cowboys’ first return to Buffalo since that Monday night game. “Things are going well, you get hit in the face with a shovel, how do you respond? I think there were some elements all throughout that early time there where Tony demonstrated that and our team demonstrated that.”
The Cowboys’ defense played a big part in keeping the game close to minimize Romo’s errors.
“Our defense played pretty good,” Phillips said. “We gave up two interceptions for a touchdown, a kick return for a touchdown. Twenty-one of the 24 points, the defense wasn’t on the field.”
After the fifth interception, the Cowboys’ defense forced a three-and-out. Romo completed nine of 11 passes, hitting Dallas receiver Patrick Crayton for a touchdown with 20 seconds left to cut the gap to 24-22. The 2-point conversion failed when Jabari Greer broke up a fade to Terrell Owens.
Then, things got interesting.
Sam Hurd punched the ensuing onside kick attempt forward, giving Cowboys backup tight end Tony Curtis the chance for the recovery. A 22-yard completion to Owens was correctly overturned by replay, but Romo connected on two more passes to the Bills’ 35 with two seconds to play, giving Nick Folk a chance to make the winning field goal.
The rookie’s kick was perfect, but Bills coach Dick Jauron called a timeout. But Folk’s second attempt, a 53-yard kick, was perfect, too. Cowboys won 25-24.