But, boy, did Jake Plummer make it close.
Arizona's second-year quarterback passed for a career-high 465 yards and three touchdowns Sunday to bring the Cardinals back from an early 28-0 deficit before Dallas escaped with a 35-28 victory.
Plummer's 57-yard pass to Rob Moore had the ball on the Cowboys 4 in the final seconds, but he threw two incompletions after spiking the ball on first down to stop the clock with 9 seconds left.
The final pass, a high fade pass that resulted in a touchdown earlier, was knocked out of Moore's hands by Kevin Smith as time expired. The Cardinals vehemently claimed pass interference.
"The guy was grabbing him -- point blank," linebacker Jamir Miller said. "He was grabbing him, tugging him. That's called pass interference."
Plummer, whose passing performance was No. 3 on the Cardinals' career list and one yard short of the most ever by a Dallas opponent, charged the referees as they left the field. He said he told them: "You've got to step up and make that call."
| The Cowboys could not contain Jake Plummer (16), but they still hung on to beat his Cardinals. (AP) |
"Their whole sideline, the owner and everybody, was jumping and calling for interference," said Smith, who was playing despite a slight shoulder separation. "It would have been a sad situation if a flag had been thrown. I get that every week if I make a play, everyone on the sideline is jumping and screaming for a flag. I thought it was a clean play."
About the only Cardinal who wouldn't call it obvious interference was Moore.
"It was a tough call I guess," he said. "To be honest with you, I was so caught up in the moment I really don't know."
Cowboys coach Chan Gailey could afford to be philosophical.
"You don't get everything you holler for out there," he said. "That's part of the game. You hope it evens out through the year."
Dallas' sixth victory in as many games against NFC East opponents moved the Cowboys two games ahead of the second-place Cardinals with six to go.
Emmitt Smith rushed for 118 yards in 26 carries and three scores to move ahead of Walter Payton and Jim Brown to No. 3 on the NFL career touchdown list with 127. Only Jerry Rice and Marcus Allen have more.
Troy Aikman completed 14 of 18 passes for 208 yards and a touchdown, but Michael Irvin did not catch any, snapping his 117-game streak dating back to 1990.
Aikman had a streak of 13 consecutive completions between late in the first quarter and early in the fourth.
This was billed as the Cardinals' biggest game since the franchise moved from St. Louis a decade ago, but Dallas took the emotion out of Arizona in a hurry.
With Aikman finding wide-open receivers and Smith running through big holes in the Arizona defense, Dallas was up 21-0 less than two minutes into the second quarter.
About half of the crowd of 71,670 -- fourth-largest ever for the Cardinals -- sat in silence. The rest, all Cowboys' fans, went wild.
After Deion Sanders, playing despite a toe injury he sustained a few minutes earlier, intercepted a pass and returned it 22 yards to the Arizona 2, Smith barrelled over for his second touchdown to put the Cowboys up 28-0 with 3:29 left in the half.
"I didn't think that they could come back," Gailey said. "I thought we'd score a couple of more touchdowns and that would be that."
Plummer's 2-yard pass to Frank Sanders with 14 seconds left in the half cut the lead to 28-7 at the break.
The Cardinals, who used a no-huddle offense most of the second half, started it with a 15-play, 60-yard drive, and Mario Bates scored on a 2-yard run to make it 28-14.
But Dallas came back with a quick 80-yard march, Smith scoring on a 3-yard run with 3:48 left in the third qurter.
A 4-yard to Moore with four seconds left in the period and Plummer's 7-yard scoring pass to Adrian Murrell cut Dallas' lead to 35-28 with 3:09 to play. The Cardinals decided against an onside kick, then held Dallas and got the ball on their own 22 with 52 seconds left and no timeouts.
Smith's 14-yard run on a pitch from Ernie Mills on what amounted to a wide receiver reverse option play set up Chris Warren's 3-yard scoring run to put Dallas up 7-0. After an Arizona fumble, Aikman completed a 1-yard scoring pass to Daryl Johnston.
Aikman's 43-yard pass to Eric Bjornson set up Smith's 1-yard touchdown run to put Dallas ahead 21-0 with 13:08 left in the half.
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