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A Very Merry Christmas

Posted Dec 25, 2010

Skelton drive, Feely field goal gives Cards dramatic 27-26 win over Cowboys

Kicker Jay Feely (4) and tight end Ben Patrick (89) celebrate Feely's game-winning field goal Saturday night in a stunning 27-26 win over Dallas.


Calling it a Christmas miracle wouldn’t be completely accurate.

On the wish list, however, winning Saturday night was the top request. Doing it the way the Cardinals did it – with Jay Feely booting a 48-yard field goal with five seconds left for an emotional 27-26 win over Dallas at University of Phoenix Stadium – meant Santa decided to deliver with a little flair.

“There’s nothing better,” quarterback John Skelton said, “than beating the Dallas Cowboys on Christmas Day.”

The Cowboys (5-10) dominated statistically. Skelton completed just 11 passes, and only one went to Larry Fitzgerald (and none to Steve Breaston). The Cardinals (5-10) held a 21-3 lead at one point, only to see the Cowboys pull ahead with a touchdown with only 1:41 left.

From there, there were some miraculous tendencies that showed.

First, Cowboys kicker David Buehler knocked the extra point off the left upright, meaning the Cardinals were only trailing by two and making a field goal a win instead of just a tie.

Stuck at their own 19 with 1:17 left, out of timeouts and facing fourth-and-15, the Cardinals had to rely on Skelton. The rookie, who had thrown Fitzgerald’s direction only two times all day – both incomplete – somehow found Fitzgerald down the middle of the field for a 26-yard gain that suddenly provided hope.

“We’ve got some resilient guys,” Fitzgerald said.

Three plays later, the Cards were at the Dallas 44 with just 25 seconds left, needing to get another 15 yards or so to put Feely in position. Under heavy pressure, Skelton moved right in the pocket and threw off his back foot, somehow getting enough steam on the pass to rookie wideout Max Komar for a 19-yard gain.

Plenty of room for Feely. The Cards ran up to spike the ball and stop the clock. And then the penalty flag flew.

The clock read 10 seconds, and the rulebook calls for a 10-second runoff in cases of a penalty being used to stop the clock while running. A couple of Cardinals headed off the field, thinking the game was over in the most cruel of ways.

But the Cards were called for illegal formation – the officials said the players were set, just lined up wrong –  so the 10-second rule didn’t apply.

“I promise you I almost threw my helmet,” Feely said. “I thought it was the 10-second run off. We all did on the sideline.”

Feely still had to come out and kick the field goal, but this season, it is more automatic than not.

“It’s nice to have a guy that makes those kicks in that clutch situation,” coach Ken Whisenhunt said.

Said Fitzgerald, “It’s really one of the best (wins) I’ve had since being a Cardinal.”

The defense was in control early, with cornerbacks Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and Greg Toler each providing interception returns for touchdowns – DRC’s was 32 yards, Toler ran one back 66 – as the Cards jumped out to an early lead.

“You get fired up and now it’s like, ‘Who wants to make a play?’ ” Rodgers-Cromartie said. “It’s not just getting too hyped or too confident, it’s just not everybody is really into it.”

It looked like the Cards would stay in control too when Cowboys quarterback Jon Kitna, who already was the replacement for the injured Tony Romo, left the game with a hip injury. The Cowboys were forced to go to second-year man Stephen McGee -- who had never thrown an NFL pass -- in the second half.

Yet it was the Cards’ offense that stalled. Skelton ended up going only 11-for-25 passing for 183 yards as Arizona couldn’t generate a first down in the second half until midway through the fourth quarter. The Cowboys slowly clawed back – they ran for 183 yards total – until McGee floated a 37-yard touchdown pass to Miles Austin through double-coverage, including perfectly-positioned safety Rashad Johnson.

Suddenly, it felt like a Christmas tragedy, until the missed PAT– “It wasn’t a coincidence he missed that extra point,” Johnson said -- and the unexpected victory drive.

“(Skelton) hit Fitz on the money, and I was excited,” defensive tackle Darnell Dockett said. “Once I saw that, I thought, ‘Maybe we do got a chance to finish this game up.’ ”

With Fitzgerald and Breaston non-factors, rookie Andre Roberts had a breakout game, with five catches for 110 yards. Included in it was a 74-yard touchdown, the Cards’ first touchdown pass since the final play of the Nov. 21 game in Kansas City.

And while Skelton’s numbers weren’t eye-popping, his final drive gave the Cardinals exactly what they wanted.

“Turned out to be a pretty good Christmas present today,” Whisenhunt said.

Which was exactly what Skelton mentioned to Whisenhunt during a pre-game handshake.

“I was saying we got one last gift to unwrap,” Skelton said. “Sure enough, it took to the last minute but it happened.”

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