CARDS 27 - COWBOYS 26
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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
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
Card defense had 5 sacks for minus-27
Cards enjoyed a +3 take-away edge
(committing no turnovers).
Cardinal Pass/Run ratio was a respectable
Five top Cardinal tacklers were D
Washington (8 tackles), Lenon (8), Toler (7), Wilson (7),
Docket had 2 sacks, Campbell, Haggans and
Schofield had one apiece.
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,
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
We didn't exactly blow anyone off the ball
very often in the run game.
The defense cooled off considerably in the
Cardinals were flagged 6 times. A-Dub took
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.
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
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!