Wide receiver Jaron Brown (13) celebrates his touchdown catch Sunday with teammates John Carlson (89) and John Brown (12) during the Cardinals' 28-17 win in Dallas.
ARLINGTON, Texas – The interception was returned for a touchdown before the crowd at AT&T Stadium was even comfortable in their seats, and it was the sort of play that undermines a team playing on the road.
Yet, even after the Cowboys added a field goal, "we didn't blink," cornerback Patrick Peterson said, as if the outcome was never in doubt. And maybe it wasn't.
By the time it was over, the Cards checked off all their boxes, from running the football to scoring touchdowns in the red zone to holding Cowboys star running back DeMarco Murray under 100 yards for this first time this season. The result was exactly what the team expected, a 28-17 win over the Cowboys to run their NFC-best record to 7-1 at the season's midway point.
"The confidence in this locker room right now is through the roof," cornerback Patrick Peterson said. "No matter who we step in the
field with, no matter what the scenario is, we feel we are the best team on the football field."
The Cowboys (6-3) were hampered by the loss of their starting quarterback Tony Romo, who was sidelined with a back injury. Backup Brandon Weeden struggled throughout the game, throwing a pair of interceptions, unable to generate any fear through the air.
But even with Romo, "it would've been the same outcome," defensive end Frostee Rucker said. "Same outcome."
The Cowboys' engine, Murray, got 79 yards on 19 carries but Dallas as a team rushed for only 92. Murray had run for at least 100 yards in each of the Cowboys' first eight games, an NFL record. But if it wasn't for Weeden's late TD toss to Pro Bowl wide receiver Dez Bryant – meaningless with only a minute left – the defense wouldn't have given up much at all.
Coach Bruce Arians often talks about his team lacking "pretty" in their wins, and that was true again in Dallas. Running back Andre Ellington would have had 100 yards rushing – he had 95 yards on 21 carries, to go with four catches for 39 yards – if it wasn't for penalties that often bogged down the offense. There was Palmer's interception, returned 58 yards for a game-opening score by cornerback Tyler Patmon, but
the quarterback rallied to throw three touchdown passes. There were too many drops by receivers, although Palmer still completed 22-of-34 passes for 249 yards.
"You can get overwhelmed by that (early deficit) on the road," Palmer said. "And we totally did not."
The ebbs and flows led the Cardinals to nurse a 14-10 lead in the fourth quarter, and the Cowboys faced a fourth-and-1 at the Arizona 34-yard line. Naturally, they gave the ball to Murray to pick up what should have been an easy first down. Naturally, the Cardinals' run defense – third in the NFL – created a wall and stuffed Murray.
"That's when the game shifted," nose tackle Dan Williams said.
Palmer and his unit made it count. The Cards drove down for a touchdown on a nine-play drive highlighted by a beautiful toe-tapping 27-yard sideline grab by the little-used Ted Ginn. Ellington followed up with a 17-yard run, and the game was in control.
"We always find ways to overcome," Ellington said.
When cornerback Antonio Cromartie grabbed an interception on the next Dallas drive, the game was over – although running back Marion Grice emphasized the end by scoring his first NFL touchdown.
Peterson was fantastic against Bryant. Bryant had only two catches for 15 yards, and although Weeden – 18-for-33 for 183 yards – wasn't great, Bryant had a couple of drops as well as Peterson blanketed Bryant.
"That's probably going to be a topic of discussion, 'Oh, they didn't have Tony Romo,' " Peterson said. "That's not our problem. We came here to win a ballgame and that's what we did."
Perhaps Peterson's only negative in the game was his inability to return a Justin Bethel blocked field goal on the final play of the first half – a big deal in itself, since Dan Bailey would normally make a 35-yard kick– for a touchdown. Peterson got 60 yards down the field before being tackled.
But if those are the things that are the cause for concern post-game, the Cardinals will take it. Meanwhile, they peel off win after win, and now have two straight home games (against St. Louis and Detroit).
The Cardinals also swept the NFC East, knocking off a pair of teams the last two weeks that will be challenging them for playoffs spots and potential home-field advantage.
"We believe in ourselves," said safety Tyrann Mathieu, who had his first interception of the season. "Even if ESPN and outside media don't necessarily consider us one of the better teams in the NFL, I think we believe in ourselves."
Images from the Cardinals game against the Cowboys