ARLINGTON, Texas – Isaiah Simmons, shoeless but still in his uniform pants and his undershirt, eye black smudged on his face, smiled.
"We wanted to get back to who we are," the linebacker said.
The Cardinals finally had won again after three straight losses, a solid 25-22 road takedown of the Cowboys Sunday at AT&T Stadium, and they indeed did look like the team that had won 10 games before any other this season.
"We got the 'W' so of course he would say that," safety Budda Baker said, smiling himself.
Simmons wasn't wrong. The Cardinals (11-5) built this season on a game just like Sunday. They won on the road – finishing the regular season 8-1 away from home. They didn't turn the ball over – their sixth such road game this season, tying the NFL record. Kyler Murray was his accurate self (68 percent completions) and ran the ball late to put the game away.
And the defense, missing two of their top three defensive linemen, outside linebackers and cornerbacks, held the Cowboys (11-5) to 45 rushing yards.
"I don't know if it was doubt, but when you don't have J.J. (Watt), don't have Hop, don't have James Conner, Rondale (Moore), big-time playmakers on both sides of the ball, you have some thoughts, 'How are we going to figure this out,' " coach Kliff Kingsbury said.
"But I don't think it was a confidence deal. I think our coaches and players know we have enough talent in the locker room."
The Cardinals remain alive with a chance for the NFC West title, even after the Rams (11-5) barely won in Baltimore earlier Sunday. If the Cardinals win at home against the Seahawks and the Rams lose at home to the 49ers, the Cardinals win the division. Any other combination and the Rams take the crown.
Those, however, are considerations for another day. Surely next Sunday, after the games play out. It's all been one game at a time this season – a cliché that held truth.
That's one of the reasons the Cardinals could come to Dallas playing the streaking Cowboys, winners of four in a row, and lead the entire game. Tight end Zach Ertz pointed out that's how the Cardinals win, with a defense built to play with a lead, and all three phases delivered.
"It's been three hard weeks, and three hard losses," defensive coordinator Vance Joseph said, before adding that his young fill-in players "gave me hope all week" at practice.
It played out Sunday.
There was a spectacular fake punt catch for 23 yards (while also drawing a pass interference flag) by backup running back Jonathan Ward from safety/up-man Chris Banjo, while Matt Prater converted all his kicks for 13 points.
Kyler Murray had his first game of multiple touchdown passes since the last road win in Chicago, and only the second time since the Houston game in October. Both on Sunday went to DeAndre Hopkins fill-in Antoine Wesley. He also engineered the perfect game-ending drive after the Cowboys cut the lead to three, running out the final 4:42 with smart keepers and changes at the line of scrimmage.
"That was the moment for me to put the game away," Murray said.
Said Simmons, "I was a little nervous, but I have more faith in them to be worried about it."
There was one scary moment. Running back Chase Edmonds was ruled down on a run right before the two-minute warning, but replays showed he may have fumbled. The problem? The Cowboys couldn't challenge because they were out of timeouts, thanks to Cardinals special teams coordinator Jeff Rodgers calling a fake fake-field goal at the end of the third quarter.
Murray was on the field as well as kicker Matt Prater. The confused Cowboys called a timeout – which became monumental.
"I knew they couldn't challenge," Kingsbury said. "So we slowed it back down and ran they play we wanted to get into."
If it wasn't for the three kneeldowns Murray had to take at the end, the Cardinals would have had more than 400 yards – finishing with 399. Murray lamented the fact the Cards didn't convert enough touchdowns, but in running his career record to 8-0 as a starter in AT&T Stadium, he wasn't going to complain much.
"That was a playoff football game," Murray said. "It's not going to be perfect."