Stallworth's 76-yard touchdown reception in the Saints' 13-7 victory over the Cowboys on Sunday sent Dallas into the playoffs on a down note and New Orleans home happier.
"I'm just disappointed," Dallas coach Bill Parcells said. "When you don't get your best and you don't do your best, it's disappointing."
The Saints (8-8), who will miss the playoffs for the third consecutive year, responded to a tongue-lashing from owner Tom Benson and a team meeting Friday night.
Dallas (10-6) had already clinched a playoff spot, but the loss dropped the Cowboys to the sixth seed in the NFC. The real winner was Seattle, which sneaked into the No. 5 seed under the NFL's complicated playoff formula.
After three consecutive 5-11 seasons, the Cowboys have had a remarkable turnaround in Parcells' first season as coach. Dallas clinched its first playoff spot since 1999 last week, which might have led to a letdown against the Saints.
Benson told the coaching staff Tuesday during an emotional meeting that he was extremely disappointed with the season. He said both the team and coaches underachieved, and he wanted them to finish on a strong note.
After Sunday's victory, Benson hugged coach Jim Haslett on the sidelines.
"It could have been better, but we ended on a high note," Benson said. "Now we have to get ready for next year."
Haslett stressed the game was their last chance to redeem themselves this year.
"Our team played hard all year," Haslett said. "We haven't always played the smartest and we didn't execute as well as we should have down the stretch."
Dallas stopped the run and limited Saints running back Deuce McAllister to 49 yards. The Cowboys' defense, which led the league in allowing 251 yards per game, gave up 291 to New Orleans.
Aaron Brooks completed 15-of-32 for 243 yards and a touchdown.
"Somebody had to step up and make a play," Bellamy said. "It just so happened to be me. I tried to seal the deal and that's what happened."
The Saints capped an eight-minute opening drive with a 24-yard field goal. Dallas came back with its own time-consuming drive, using 8:32 in the second quarter to go 93 yards. Richie Anderson's 3-yard reception put the Cowboys ahead 7-3.
The lead lasted only 27 seconds. That's how long it took Brooks to hit Stallworth with a 76-yard touchdown pass. Stallworth, who missed five games and most of a sixth with injuries, caught the ball in traffic and outran everyone, giving New Orleans a 10-7 lead at halftime.
Unlike teammate Joe Horn, Stallworth didn't pull a cell phone out after the TD.
But he was talking to Cowboys cornerback Terence Newman as he crossed the goal line, then flipped Newman the football, earning a 15-yard unsportsmanlike conduct penalty on the ensuing kickoff. Newman tossed the ball back to Stallworth.
"He was talking a little out there," Newman said. " Joe Horn was talking from the sideline, egging him on."
Horn, who missed the game with a shoulder injury, was among the first to congratulate Stallworth. The play happened in the same end zone where Horn's stunt earned him a $30,000 fine.
John Carney, who missed a tying extra point as time expired in a 20-19 loss to Jacksonville a week ago, hit two field goals. His second field goal, from 27 yards in the third quarter, stretched the Saints' lead to 13-7.
- An 10-6 finish gives the Cowboy their best record since they were 10-6 in 1998.
- The Cowboys will appear in the playoffs for the 27th time in 44 regular seasons.
- McAllister's 49 rushing yards left him 34 yards short of the 83 he needed to break the team single-season rushing record of 1,674 yards set in 1981 by George Rogers.
- Cowboys DT La'Roi Glover, named to the Pro Bowl twice while playing at New Orleans from 1997 to 2001, ranks sixth in Saints history with 50.5 sacks.
- The Saints sold out their 29th consecutive game at the 72,000-seat Louisiana Superdome.
The Associated Press News Service
Copyright 2003, The Associated Press, All Rights Reserved