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House of Cards comes falling down on embarrassed Cowboys

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- A couple of concerns were on the Arizona Cardinals' minds before their collision with the Dallas Cowboys. Both anxieties involved embarrassment.

Up in the stands, the Cardinals wondered if Dallas fans would rule in numbers and in noise. They wondered if thousands of Cardinals fans would sell their tickets to Cowboys fans. That would embarrass the Arizona franchise in its own stadium.

  -- Cards DE 
 Antonio Smith

On the field, the Cardinals wondered if the glitzy Cowboys they had studied from afar were even more quick and fleet and powerful up close. Was their best effort enough against talented Dallas? Despite the preparation, might the Cowboys embarrass them?

Well, the Cardinals fans showed up. Their team did, too.

It was a 30-24 Arizona victory in overtime before 64,389 mostly-red-clad fans that made both teams 4-2. Arizona won its sixth straight home game as it heads into its bye in first place in the NFC West.

Dallas heads to St. Louis a bit perplexed, plenty frustrated and -- thanks to Arizona for flipping the script -- embarrassed.

"Embarrassing and sickening," is the way that Dallas receiver Patrick Crayton described it.

Arizona received a 93-yard kickoff return for a touchdown by J.J. Arrington on the game's first play and a Sean Morey blocked punt and 3-yard scoring return by Monty Beisel on the game's last play.

In between, the Cardinals traded blows with Dallas as the game turned part alley-brawl as much as fancy and finesse. Dallas quarterback Tony Romo was sacked three times but hit, it seemed, 300 times. Running back Marion Barber, known for always dispensing blows, took wicked shots all day from the Arizona defense.

And though Crayton scored on a 55-yard pass and Barber on a 70-yard pass, though Nick Folk nailed a 52-yard field goal as regulation time expired to extend the game for Dallas, though Dallas won the overtime coin toss and looked prepped to drive, score, win and bolt ...

"We had other plans," said Cardinals defensive end Antonio Smith, who gained two hits on Romo and a fumble recovery. "They are as talented as advertised. But to me, they feed off that, feed off being the bully on the block. They have the big O-linemen, the big names. But we saw in film that the teams that did not buy into all of that, Cincinnati and Washington, the teams that hit them in the mouth and dished it back to Dallas, had success against them. So, we focused on ... not buying into their hype. We, instead, decided to buy into each other."

That took the Cardinals a long way.

They were resilient in a game that was tied four times. They turned a deficit in total yards gained (Dallas 374, Arizona 276) into a weakened factor with big-play special teams matched by enough big plays elsewhere.

You heard Dallas players afterward talking about "tipping their hat" to the Cardinals and admiring "how much they brought it to us today." The Dallas players noticed the excitement, the electric atmosphere in the building. The Cowboys know a big-game, big-venue, big-ticket environment when they are in one.

This was it.

The Cardinals players decided to make the most of it.

Cardinals coach Ken Whisenhunt said he has seen his team lose games like this one. Give up when the going got prickly. Fold to the pressure. Not this time.

Cardinals quarterback Kurt Warner was asked if this victory created an identity for his team.

"It definitely could," he said. "No question, a big game against a top opponent, getting a win like this at home. There's no telling what this could do for our football team."

After their bye, the Cardinals play at Carolina and then in successive weeks divisional games at St. Louis, home against San Francisco and then at Seattle. That could be the stretch where the Cardinals stake their firmest claim to the NFC West.

For the Cowboys, owner Jerry Jones after this loss was in the middle of the locker room early and late. Jones knew that his team would take this loss hard. He was there to soften the blow.

Jones said he did not expect the Cowboys to go where they want to go without some tough times, especially on the road. He said the Cardinals tested his team in mighty ways and were to be commended.

"Am I going to run out here and demand changes and look to shake things up?" Jones asked. "No. I've had a lot of games that I have lost that have bothered me more."

Jones knows that the Cowboys are in it for the long haul, that they want to compile victories and impress fans and the league and win 'em all. But 13-3 last year in the regular season got the Cowboys nothing in the playoffs. How does his team peak in January? That continues to be the Cowboys quest.

"Last year at this time," said Jones, "we were playing our best football. This year, right now, we are not. And while we all want more, that might not be such a horrible thing for right now."

All in Dallas, however, have to be anxious about the primary blueprint and message.

In training camp, in the preseason, it was all about "FINISH" for the Cowboys. Finish plays. Finish games.

Dallas did not do enough of that against Arizona.

In fact, afterward, coach Wade Phillips was talking about his disappointment in the team not being able to pull off "a miracle finish."

Thus, the Dallas mantra started with "FINISH" and six weeks into the season it is being tweaked to "miracle finish."

That does not make much sense to the Dallas players. It does not help keep them on point.

And that "point" is with their star status and grand following and incredible hopes, the Cowboys must always seek ways to relax, perform, win matchups. Doing that will lead Dallas to where it wants to go.

"I do believe in who we are and what we are," Jones said. "There's a lot more down the road."

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