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The Setup
Merry Christmas! How about them Cowboys! The media (ignoring such insignificant factors as a weakened O-line) anointed them  "Darlins' of the NFC East" status at the beginning of the season, but a lot has transpired since then). Their QB, Tony Romo is on IR and their HC Wade Phillips was made "former HC." In the eyes of their owner (who talked up the possibility of his team playing in this year's Super Bowl to be held in their gazillion-dollar new stadium), their players and their fans (and to the glee of the rest of us) they have underperformed badly this year.

Much in common, but a few differences. Both teams entered the contest with QB's who didn't start the season. Both had losing W & L records. Both, therefore, had little to play for other than pride and bragging rights. The three biggest differences were: (1) the game was sold out in Glendale. (2) Team Felon at least had a veteran QB in John Kitna. (3) Most of the NFL Network coverage focused on Jerry Jones (who was all over the stadium (& TV screens) the way a pushy houseguest has no problem raiding your medicine cabinet or refrigerator. The way we handicapped this contest was "Who wants it more?" with Dallas having a more cohesive offense and the Cardinals enjoying home field.

The Bottom Line:.
The Cards started fast, saw their lead disappear and mounted a furious comeback drive in the final 1:41 to enable Jay Feely to win the game with 0:10 seconds on the clock. Arizona opened. up an early 21 - 3 (on 2 Pick 6's - one by DRC and one by Toler, and a pretty 73-yard TD catch and run by Roberts, who caught the ball deep after his defender fell down, cut sharply to his right and outraced his only pursuer diagonally to the end zone. But the Cowboys kept chipping away and chipping away, and they did it without the 2nd half services of Jon Kitna who injured his leg late in the first half. Their backup (McGee) played equally as well if not better than  Skelton. (Note - It didn't help that Feely missed a 49-yard FG attempt which would have made it a 3 TD game). In addition to 2 FG's, Dallas scored three TD's - two vs. young Cardinal safety Rashad Johnson and one on a long run by Barber. But what proved to be fatal was the missed XP on the 3rd & final Dallas go-ahead touchdown. The missed FG enabled Feely to kick one winning FG instead of one that would have tied it.

Skelton looked pretty much the way he did vs. Denver & even better during that final game-winning drive when he converted a 4th & 15 with a deep strike to Fitzgerald and followed it with another strike that put the ball close enough for Feely to win the game for us. Beanie had his power-running moments. Card defense sacked Kitna 4 times in the first half along, but seemed to cool off in the second half (I wonder what adjustments Dallas made at halftime or, less likely, whether Billy Davis dialed things back a bit in order to protect the lead).

Net-Net - We won it. Barely. We'll take it. Happy Holidays!

Game Recap

1st Quarter

  • Cards received (without LSH in the lineup) and started from their own 17. Two completions by Skelton weren't enough to avoid a 3 & out. Graham punted 54 yards. A holding penalty negated an 11-yard return. 'Pokes started from their own 24. On the second play from scrimmage, DRC jumped a route, successfully outfought Miles Austin for the ball pivoted around the back of the Cowboy receiver and raced 32 yards down the right sideline for the score.  Cardinals 7 - Cowboys 0.

  • Dallas returned the KO to their own 24 and Kitna was sacked by Campbell on the first play from scrimmage. Dallas coughed it up on the second play (forced by Daryl Washington) but they were able to recover it. They managed to pick up a first down and move to the Cardinal 39, but Kitna's pass intended for Roy Williams bounced off the Cowboy receiver and into the arms of Greg Toler who sped 66 yards down the left sideline for the Cardinals' second TD of the evening.  Cardinals 14 - Cowboys

  • Kickoff went for a TB. On the second play from scrimmage, Haggans sacked Kitna for minus-6 and helped force a 3 & out.An 11-yard Roberts return gave us possession at our own 35. On the first play from scrimmage, Mau'ia - catching near the right sideline -  literally stole a jump ball from his defender for a 10 yard pickup. A pass interference penalty helped move us to the Cowboy 31, where the drive stalled and Feely missed a 49-yard attempt. Dallas managed to move to the Cardinal 43 in six plays as the quarter ended.  1st Quarter Score: Cardinals 14 - Cowboys 0.

2nd Quarter

  • Dallas continued to move the ball and got as far as the Cardinal 25, where Buehler (Buehler? - actually pronounced "Beeler") hit a FG from 42 yards. Cardinals 14 - Cowboys 3.

  • Kickoff went for a touchback. On the second play from scrimmage, Skelton hit Roberts wide open deep (after his defender fell down0. #12 caught it in full stride, cut diagonally across the field and outraced the only defender between him and the end zone to paydirt. Cardinals 21- Cowboys 3.

  • Dallas returned the KO to their own 13. On the first play from scrimmage, Kitna was sacked again (this time by Dockett for +0). Two plays later, D-Dock sacked Kitna again, this time for -4. But Dallas was able to move to the Cardinal 38 in 9 plays. On 4th & 2, Adrian Wilson was drawn offside, giving Dallas a first down. (Kitna injured his leg and was replaced by McGee). Marion Barber then zipped 25 yards through a hole off tackle (the Cards always seem to give up 2 or 3 of those each game) and, 4 plays later, Kitna (who returned to action for just this one play) hit Whitten for a 2 yard score. (Suddenly  things are beginning to tighten up. Cardinals 21- Cowboys 10.

  • 5:11 til halftime. Roberts returned the KO to our own 23. A pretty scramble by Skelton helped us picked up one first down, but - after a 9-yard pickup by Wells, we couldn't convert a 3rd & 1 and punted. Cowboys ball on their own 9-yard line with 2:00 left. They were forced to punt with 0:20 left on the clock. Cards completed one pass for +7 as the half ended. Ironic - Cowboys controlled time of possession by roughly 35:00 to 25:00, but were still down by 11.  1st Half Score: Cardinals 21 - Cowboys 10.

3rd Quarter

  • Dallas returned the 2H KO to their own 26. McGee under center. Three & out. Cards took over on their own 18 and (aided & abetted by a false start call on Spach) went 3 & out. Graham's punt was fair caught at the Dallas 26. Dallas punted 5 plays later for a touchback. Cards survived a fumbled 3rd down snap by Skelton (Breaston saved the day) but still went 3 &  out. Cowboys got the ball back on their own 39. A 19 yard catch by Austin (off a tackling gamble by DRC) helped set up a 53-yard Buehler FG. Cardinals 21 - Cowboys 13

  • Roberts returned the KO from 4 yards deep in the end zone to the Cardinal 17. We went 3 & out. A 16-yard punt return by Mccann helped Dallas get the ball back in excellent field position at the Cardinal 47. Dallas just ripped us apart on this drive: McGee for +4; Jones for +7; Choice for +9 (negated by a false-start flag on former Cardinal T Leonard Davis - aka "Santa Claus"); Jones for +5; Barber +3 and then Barber off RG for +25 and a touchdown. We got ourselves a one-point football game.   Cardinals 21 - Cowboys 20.

  • Guess who went 3 & out? Dallas got the ball back on their own 10-yard line and ran off one play before the 3rd quarter ended. 3rd Quarter Score: Cardinals 21 - Cowboys 20.

4th Quarter

  • FMcGee picked up 3 first downs and moved his team to the Dallas 48 in 8 plays, but Schofield sacked McGee for minus-11 and forced Dallas to punt. Cards' ball on their own 20 with 8:50 to go. Cards drained 5-minutes off the clock in 8 plays and 2 first downs. Key play sequence involved a 21-yard completion to Roberts followed by three straight runs by Beanie for +8; +10 and +3-yards.  Drive stalled on the Cowboy 31. Feely's 49 yard attempt (with 3:45 left on the clock was good! Cardinals 24 - Cowboys 20.

  • Feely's KO went for a touchback. Cowboys moved from their own 20 to the Cardinal 45 in 7 plays. On 4th & 5, DRC - in close coverage - was flagged for defensive pass interference putting the ball on the Cardinal 37. On the next play from scrimmage (with 1:47 on the clock), McGee hit Austin deep over the top (vs. R Johnson and another Cardinal defender) for a touchdown which should have made it  Dallas27 - Cards24. But Buehler's (Buehler!) XP attempt faded wide left and narrowed the Cowboy lead to 2-points   Cowboys 26 - Cardinals 24.

  • 1:41 left to play. Roberts returned the KO out of boundsto the Cardinal 24. How about this? (1) Incompletion. (2) Sack. (3) Incomplete/Offensive Pass Interference Declined). (4) 4th & 15 with 1:17 on the clock - Skelton hits Fitz for +26 and a 1st down. (First completion to Fitz all game). He scrambles for +5, hits Hightower for +6 and, 2 plays later (with 0:25 left to play), hits Komar for for +19 to put the ball in chip-shot country at the Dallas 25. He spikes the ball, but Komar fails to line up at the LOS and the Cards are moved back to the 30. With 0:10 on the clock, Feely comes through from 48 yards out. Cardinals 27 - Cowboys 26.

  • But there were still 0:05 left to play. A really pretty Feely squbbed KO (considering that he had to kick 15 additional yards due to a a "chicken" post-TD Unsportsmanlike call) rolled up the right sideline and died a quiet death at the Dallas on; forcing Newman to field it and run with it; thereby using up all the remaining clock time - except for one second they put back on the clock. (Nothing comes easy). Final play resulted in a Cardinal fumble recovery by Rhodes. Game Over. Cardinals win! Final Score Cardinals 27 - Broncos 26.

  • Denver used the 2:42 left mainly to dish the ball to their rookie (Ball). Final Score: Cardinals 43 - Broncos 13.

Game Stats
Just the meaningful ones that stood out.

  • Skelton had a QB Rating of 82.6 despite only completing 11 of 25 passes. (He threw for 1 TD; had none intercepted; was sacked once.

  • Beanie gained 47 yards on 11 carries.

  • Fitz was thrown to 3 times (caught one - but it was the one changed the outcome of the game).

  • Breaston didn't get thrown to at all (but he did cover that one crucial Skelton fumble on the botched shotgun snap).

  • Roberts was the main guy - 5 catches out 9 thrown to him.

  • Toler and DRC had one Pick 6 apiece.

  • Dallas ran for 183 yards on 34 carries

  • McGee was 11 of 17 (compared to Kitna's 12 for 20)

  • Card defense had 5 sacks for minus-27 yards

  • Cards enjoyed a +3 take-away edge (committing no turnovers).

  • Cardinal Pass/Run ratio was a respectable 25-to 21.

  • Five top Cardinal tacklers were D Washington (8 tackles), Lenon (8), Toler (7), Wilson (7), Rhodes (7)

  • Docket had 2 sacks, Campbell, Haggans and Schofield had one apiece.

Bright Side

  • Cardinal defense evidently came to play - 2 Pick 6's, 5 sacks, 3 total turnovers - Cardinal football.

  • In addition to making big plays, the Cardinal "D" was stout against the run - at least for most of the first half.

  • The rooks - Skelton, Roberts, D Williams, Washington, Schofield,

  • What Skelton once again proved is that - when the Cardinal defense and special teams bring their "A" game, he doesn't have to be a hero. Think about it - one catch by Fitz and none by Breaston (who may not have played any WR at all). Completion percentage was only 44.0%, but he threw no picks and only got sacked once. In other words, Skelton kept the game in-control just enough to allow the rest of the team to make plays and win it for him.

  • This is the second recent game where Feely won it for us (that's 2 of 6 wins; not bad for a guy who "keeks a touchdown!").

The Dark Side

  • Levi is not fool-proof vs. quick edge rushers.

  • We didn't exactly blow anyone off the ball very often in the run game.

  • The defense cooled off considerably in the second half.

  • Cardinals were flagged 6 times. A-Dub took two penalties.

  • Cardinal DB's need to improve their tight-coverage techniques to a point where half of those interference calls and lost jump-balls start to fall our way. (Tackling could be a little more "lock-down" also).

  • Memo to DRC: "Do you think that, maybe if you didn't high-step it over the goal line (thereby pissing off some of the old school refs), they later on might have cut you a little more slack on those interference calls?

  • (Not so much "dark side" as not 100% "bright side"): I agree with Deon's word of caution not to anoint John Skelton our next starting QB just yet as we plan for next year. (11 of 25 in the completion dept. isn't exactly Pro Bowl caliber). Yes, John has done everything you can ask of him as he develops from an untested UDFA rookie to a QB who can be trusted with the keys to the offense. But that doesn't mean we can be absolutely sure we can win with him and wouldn't be better off with someone more experienced and reliable to provide depth and hedge our bets with.

Last Word:
The big question coming into the Christmas night game was whether the Cards would come to play or whether they'd embarrass us all and mail it in. As it turned out, both teams played their guts out. One of the nice things about wins is that, you can focus on areas needing to be improved, without having to be defensive about it. Among our concerns were (a) leaving those 3-points on the ground when Jay missed the FG, (b) allowing Dallas to creep back into the game, (c) why our red-hot d first half defense became ice-cold in the second halfm, (d) getting Skelton up to 55-60% in the completion dept., (e) getting our running attack up to full speed.

One positive thing that continues to reinforce itself - "Don't make a lot of mistakes and you can be outgained on the ground and lose time of possession (38:05 to 21:55) and still win football games." Happy Holidays!
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Copyright 1996 Gollin & Associates. Last modified: 12/26/2010