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In only two games, Barry Switzer has won more times than any other first-year coach for the Dallas Cowboys. He discovered Sunday how difficult it can be to win in the NFL.

The two-time Super Bowl champion Cowboys held off Bucky Richardson in his first start and beat the Houston Oilers 20-17 Sunday."It's a win but we're not going to brag about it," Switzer said. "We did what we had to do."

Tom Landry was 0-11-1 with the expansion Cowboys, while Jimmy Johnson was 1-15 in his first year with the team. Although Switzer inherited a championship club, there were questions about how he'd handle his first coaching job in five years.

While Richardson had the Cowboys worried, Dallas still managed four sacks and two interceptions in its home-opener. Richardson was subbing for Cody Carlson, who wasn't activated after sustaining a separated left shoulder last week.

"I'll tell you what, before the game I didn't want to play against him," Switzer said. "He scares me to death the way he scrambles. He's a great competitor."

Emmitt Smith, who had 171 yards last week in going for his fourth straight NFL rushing title, had 90 yards on 27 carries on Sunday. Richardson completed 20 of 42 passes for 242 yards, while Troy Aikman was 14 of 25 for 228 yards.

Darren Woodson and Charles Haley had interceptions for the Cowboys, who beat Houston (0-2) in the regular season for the first time since 1985. But Richardson took Houston on two touchdown drives and his scrambling kept the Oilers in the game.

"We underestimated Bucky and he proved to everybody he can play in the NFL," Woodson said.

The Oilers stacked the line of scrimmage and it proved to be their downfall when Aikman hit Alvin Harper with a 53-yard touchdown pass in the third period for a 20-10 lead. Harper had single coverage on the play.

Richardson twice scrambled for first downs, once on fourth-and-18 from the Dallas 38, to position Houston for Gary Brown's 2-yard TD run, his second score of the game, with 4:03 left.

"We came close but that doesn't mean much," said Richardson who scrambled seven times for 37 yards. "I evaluate my performance on wins and losses."

A costly mistake by Dallas wide receiver Michael Irvin gave the Oilers a chance in the first half after the Cowboys built a 10-3 lead. Irvin bobbled a long pass from Aikman and Cris Dishman caught the carom and returned the interception 38 yards to the Dallas 22.

Richardson sneaked for the necessary yardage on fourth-and-1 from the Dallas 13 and Gary Brown scored from the 3 two plays later as Houston tied the game at 10. Brown had 93 yards on 20 carries.

Questionable strategy by the Oilers help position the Cowboys for a 29-yard field goal by Chris Boniol that gave Dallas a 13-10 halftime lead. With third-and-1 from the Oilers 9, Richardson passed incomplete. Dallas took the punt and drove 40 yards for the field goal as time ran out.

Houston coach Jack Pardee said problems with the radio helmet caused a mixup.

"We thought it was first down," Pardee said. "That was a big mistake on me."