Skip to main content

No. 16: Cards ride third-string QB past Cowboys on Christmas

As the research analyst for NFL Network's NFL RedZone, Elliot Harrison watched all 267 games in the 2010 season. We asked him to rank the 20 most memorable.

Remember the old FOX Sports promos, "Favre … Young … it's the NFL on FOX?"

Well, the quarterbacks starting in the  Cowboys-Cardinals Week 16 matchup on Christmas were a little less sexy: "Kitna … Skelton … it's on NFL Network!"

The quarterback situation only got worse when Jon Kitna was injured late in the game. Enter former Texas A&M standout Stephen McGee … as in, third-string quarterback Stephen McGee.

Circumstances would get much better, though, making this far and away one of the most entertaining games of the season. Trailing 26-24 late in the fourth, John Skelton delivered in the clutch, hitting Larry Fitzgerald for 26 yards on a fourth-and-15 that Arizona had to have … on a drive that culminated with Jay Feely's game-winning field goal.

The heroics from Skelton and Feely were set up by one big miss, however. David Buehler botched an extra point on the previous drive that would have put Dallas up by three. This after McGee had miraculously led the Cowboys on the go-ahead touchdown drive.

Buehler, pronounced "BEE-lehr," is one of those new-era kickers who doesn't shun the weight room, and looks like a strong safety. Too bad he often kicks like one, too. In fact, Buehler became the regular kicker when the club parted ways with the inconsistent Nick Folk late in 2009.

But this game brought back even older memories than 2009. The Cowboys played the Cardinals on Christmas night, 1995, in another seemingly meaningless game. That was until the team found out on the flight to Arizona that the top-seeded 49ers blew their game in Atlanta, meaning Dallas would now be playing for home-field advantage in the playoffs. The Cowboys beat the Cardinals handily, and would go on to win Super Bowl XXX … ironically held in Sun Devil Stadium a month later.

It was also at that same Christmas night game that all of the football scenes for "Jerry Maguire" were shot. If you know the movie, you might recall the NFL Films footage of former Cardinals receiver Rob Moore being weaved into the film as though he were Cuba Gooding, Jr.'s character, Rod Tidwell.

Unlike the 1995 team, the 2010 Cardinals showed up in a big way. With seemingly nothing to play for, they delivered two defensive touchdowns, rallied around their last option at quarterback and gave all of us a nice Christmas gift: A great game.

Game rewind

Same ol' situation

Despite their immense struggles, the Cardinals got some big wins because the defense made up for their Headless Horseman-offense. The Cardinals beat Drew Brees and the Saints with two defensive touchdowns, including a pick-six from Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie. He gave an encore performance in this game on Dallas' second play from scrimmage.

Meanwhile, both Miles Austin and Roy Williams often had trouble coming out of their breaks last year. Austin sometimes stumbled, while Williams rounded off his routes. Austin's case of the slips cost the Cowboys dearly on Rodgers-Cromartie's interception.

Can't-miss play

Remember the "Brady Bunch" episode when Jan lost her locket? Somehow the bush caught it when she dropped it from her window -- definitely one of the more bogus episodes ever. Ditto for McGee's late touchdown pass to Austin that put the Cowboys in front.

Depending on your perspective, McGee either got REALLY lucky the ball wasn't picked, or he fit it in the tightest of windows. Holy cow.

Boneheaded play of the game

Like Game 17 on our list, this one should be obvious. After the costly miss, Buehler appears to be looking for someone to explain what happened. Our NFL Network booth was just as surprised as the rest of America with the missed extra point.

Why is this game No. 16 of 2010?

This game had as many twists and turns as the dungeons this one kid on my street used to create, back when I was rolling 20-sided dice and voraciously reading "Monster Manuals." Creepy childhood addictions to D&D aside, how many Week 16 games between two bad teams generate the kind of tense excitement this one did?

Moreover, how many exciting games feature two third-string quarterbacks duking it out?

Unfortunately, this Christmas gift to Cardinal fans failed to pay dividends come April.

Why not higher?

Despite the poor records of the teams involved, the Cowboys and Cardinals played one damn exciting football game. Yet there was nothing riding on it other than pride, and much of the night was marred by mistakes, thus leaving it out of the top 10.

This article has been reproduced in a new format and may be missing content or contain faulty links. Please use the Contact Us link in our site footer to report an issue.