October 12, 2011

2008: Cardinals Beat Cowboys with Blocked Punt in Overtime

The matchup at University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale, Arizona on October 12, 2008 featured the host Arizona Cardinals (3-2) against the Dallas Cowboys (4-1), the more highly-regarded team.

Arizona was coming off an encouraging 8-8 season in ‘07 under Head Coach Ken Whisenhunt. Veteran QB Kurt Warner had resurrected his career with the Cardinals and had an outstanding receiving corps to throw to in wide receivers Larry Fitzgerald, Anquan Boldin, and Steve Breaston. The defense, however, was a source of concern, especially after having surrendered 56 points to the New York Jets two weeks before.

Much more was expected of the Cowboys, under Head Coach Wade Phillips. They had won the NFC East with a 13-3 record in 2007, only to be upset at home in the Divisional round by the Giants. The team had stars in QB Tony Romo, RB Marion Barber, WR Terrell Owens, and TE Jason Witten on offense and LB DeMarcus Ware on defense. They won their first three games, lost a close contest to Washington, and bounced back to beat the Bengals the previous week.

The home crowd got an immediate treat when RB J.J. Arrington ran the opening kickoff back 93 yards for a touchdown and quick 7-0 lead for the Cardinals. That was it for the first quarter scoring, but the Cowboys put together a 91-yard drive in the second quarter, highlighted by two Romo passes to WR Patrick Crayton, one for a 24-yard gain and the other for a 55-yard touchdown. The score remained tied at 7-7 at halftime.

Dallas started off the second half with a long drive that covered 77 yards in 12 plays. Romo completed five passes along the way, including three to Owens that covered 27 yards and one to WR Miles Austin for a 14-yard TD. Arizona came right back with an 11-play possession that was kept alive when, on a third-and-seventeen play, a tipped pass by Warner was still caught by RB Tim Hightower, who gained the necessary 17 yards before being pushed out of bounds at the 50. Another third down was converted thanks to a pass to Breaston that gained 22 yards to the Dallas 24. The drive culminated in a two-yard scoring pass from Warner to Fitzgerald, and the game was once again tied at 14-14.

Following a Dallas punt, the Cardinals put together another scoring drive that extended into the fourth quarter. Warner completed a pass to a leaping Fitzgerald for a 39-yard gain to the Cowboys’ 38 along the way, and an 11-yard touchdown throw to Breaston finished off the 89-yard possession and put Arizona back in front at 21-14.

Dallas went three-and-out and punted, and the Cardinals scored again as they drove 43 yards in nine plays, with Neil Rackers giving them a ten-point lead thanks to a 41-yard field goal. The Cowboys got the ball back with 3:12 remaining in regulation but struck quickly when Romo completed two short passes before connecting with Marion Barber for a 70-yard TD.

Arizona had to punt following a short possession and, down by three, the Cowboys took over at their 32 yard line. A holding penalty set them back further, and following two incomplete passes and a short throw for a four-yard gain, Dallas faced a third-and-16 situation. An offside penalty on the defense gained five yards, and Romo then threw to Crayton for a 30-yard gain and a first down. Another offside call, on an injured Arizona linebacker who couldn’t get down the field quickly enough, proved critical as Folk booted a 52-yard field goal that was just long enough to clear the crossbar with no time left to tie the game at 24-24 and send it into overtime.

Dallas got the ball first in the extra period, but after a sack and two incomplete passes, the Cowboys had a fourth-and-17 situation and were forced to punt from their own 15. WR Sean Morey blocked Mat McBriar’s kick (pictured at top) and LB Monty Beisel grabbed the ball for the Cardinals at the three and ran it in for a stunning 30-24 win. It was the first time since the NFL had instituted sudden death play for the regular season in 1974 that a game was decided by a touchdown on a blocked punt.

The Cowboys outgained Arizona (374 yards to 276) and had the edge in first downs (15 to 14). Neither team ran the ball with much effectiveness, with Dallas gaining 73 yards on 22 running plays and the Cardinals just 50 on 19 attempts. Dallas had fewer turnovers, with one to three suffered by the Cardinals. There were plenty of flags flown, as both teams were penalized 12 times, for a total of 163 yards.

Kurt Warner completed 22 of 30 passes for 236 yards with two touchdowns and one interception. Steve Breaston (pictured above) led the receivers with 8 catches for 102 yards and a TD while Larry Fitzgerald contributed 5 receptions for 79 yards and a score. 30-year-old veteran RB Edgerrin James was the top rusher with 29 yards on 9 attempts; Tim Hightower gained 20 yards on 7 carries.

For the Cowboys, Tony Romo went to the air 38 times and had 24 completions for 321 yards with three touchdowns and none picked off. Marion Barber (pictured below) caught 11 passes out of the backfield for 128 yards and the one long TD, and also was the team’s leading rusher with 45 yards on 17 carries. Patrick Crayton gained 84 yards on his three catches that included a touchdown.

“It didn't seem like the bounces or the calls were going our way and sometimes you have to overcome those things,” said Arizona’s Coach Whisenhunt afterward. “I think our team did that. That's part of growing up and getting mentally tougher.”

“Today I got hit blindside for the first time in awhile,” said Tony Romo, who dealt with a great deal of pressure from the Arizona defense. “But they're good. Their D-line played an outstanding football game. You've got to give them credit. That was, I thought, the difference of the game.”

The Cardinals won three of their next four games before losing four of five (and looking especially bad in losses on the East Coast) to finish at 9-7, which was good enough to win the mediocre NFC West. Lightly regarded going into the postseason, they defeated the Falcons, Panthers, and Eagles on the way to winning the NFC Championship and narrowly lost the Super Bowl to the Pittsburgh Steelers. Dallas also ended up with a 9-7 record, but was eliminated from the playoffs in the final week and placed third in the NFC East.