AGLENDALE, Ariz. — Third-string quarterbacks when the season began, John Skelton and Stephen McGee had lead parts in a Christmas night drama staged by a pair of NFL teams headed nowhere.
Jay Feely’s 48-yard field goal inched over the crossbar with 5 seconds to play, giving the Arizona Cardinals a 27-26 victory over the Dallas Cowboys.
“Really, nothing’s bigger than beating the Dallas Cowboys on Christmas Day right now,” Cardinals rookie QB Skelton said. “Whiz (coach Ken Whisenhunt) was shaking my hand before the game and I said, ’We have one last gift to unwrap.’ Sure enough, it took the last minute, but we got it.”
Dallas (5-10) rallied from 18 points down to take a 26-24 lead when Stephen McGee, in his first NFL game, threw 45 yards to Miles Austin for a touchdown with 1:46 to play. But David Buehler’s extra point went wide left.
“I’m not feeling too good,” Buehler said. “I feel bad for Stephen. He drove the team down there and got the touchdown. PATs are something that is something automatic. You have to put them through the uprights. I think I just rushed it a little bit.”
Arizona (5-10) was in deep trouble after the kickoff, but Skelton, on fourth-and-15 from the Cardinals 19, threw 26 yards to fellow rookie Max Komar. Then the Cardinals slipped into Feely’s range. Feely, who had a 49-yarder earlier, has missed three kicks all season, including a 49-yard attempt Saturday night.
Dallas fell behind 14-0 when Jon Kitna had interceptions returned for touchdowns on the Cowboys’ first two possessions. Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie returned the first 32 yards, and Greg Toler the second 66.
Under clear skies with the stadium roof open and at least half the capacity crowd cheering for Dallas, the Cardinals took a 21-3 lead. Skelton, in his third NFL start, connected with wide-open rookie Andre Roberts on a 74-yard play for the young quarterback’s first NFL touchdown pass.
Kitna, the starter since Tony Romo went down with a broken collarbone, got Dallas in the end zone before halftime. The 38-year-old quarterback scrambled 7 yards up the middle to the Arizona 2-yard line, and on fourth down threw to Jason Witten for the score. He left the field and immediately went to the locker room with a hip injury and didn’t play again, watching from the sideline wearing a baseball cap.
McGee, a fourth-round draft pick out of Texas A&M in 2009, smoothly stepped in, repeatedly connecting on third-down passes. He finished 11 of 17 for 111 yards with no interceptions.
The Cowboys dominated the third quarter, holding Arizona to 23 yards and no first downs, outscoring the Cardinals 10-0 to cut the lead to 21-20.
Feely’s 49-yarder boosted the lead to 24-20, forcing the Cowboys to go for a touchdown.
They got it on a perfect pass by McGee onto Austin’s fingertips. The best Arizona could hope for was overtime, everyone thought. Then Buehler missed a conversion kick for the second time in 40 tries.
Austin slipped on Dallas’ first possession, allowing Rodgers-Cromartie to pick off the pass and run to the end zone.
On the next possession, the Cowboys drove to the Arizona 39, then Kitna’s pass bounced off the hands of Roy Williams into the arms of Toler, who escaped tacklers and outran the competition for the TD.
It was the first time since 1999 a team had returned two interceptions for scores in the first quarter.
The plays gave Arizona 12 return touchdowns, second most in NFL history behind Seattle’s 13 in 2003. That includes interceptions, kickoffs, punts and fumbles.