GLENDALE, Ariz. — Arizona once soared on the arm of Kurt Warner. Dallas rests its hopes on Tony Romo.
Now, Warner is retired, Romo is hurt and the teams are down to third-stringers John Skelton and Stephen McGee — the unlikely stars of 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 Cardinals a 27-26 victory over the 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 37 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 Larry Fitzgerald, his only catch of the game. Then Skelton threw 19 yards to fellow rookie Max Komar.
An illegal formation penalty moved the ball back 5 yards but still well within Feely's range. Feely, who had a 49-yarder earlier, has missed three kicks all season, including a 49-yard attempt Saturday night.
Many thought the Cowboys had won it when the penalty was called because they expected a 10-second runoff. But referee Jeff Triplette said that the runoff does not apply to an illegal formation call.
“I promise you, I almost threw my helmet,” Feely said. “I thought it was a 10-second runoff. We all did on the sideline.”
Fitzgerald's string of games with at least two catches ended at 97, fourth longest in NFL history.
“About four years ago I might have been pouting on the sidelines at that time,” he said, “but I really wasn't too frustrated, honestly. I saw the calls and they were trying to get stuff all day.
“John Skelton made a terrific play down the stretch.”
The missed extra point haunted the Cowboys after the game.
“He (Bueller) has been a fairly consistent kicker at times,” interim Dallas coach Jason Garrett said, “and at other times he has missed some kicks that he is capable of making.”
Dallas fell behind 14-0 when 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 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 Cowboys dropped to 4-3 since Wade Phillips was fired and replaced by Garrett. Arizona has won two of three after losing seven in a row.
Kitna said after the game he had a “strained left oblique.”
“We tried to do what we could to block the pain,” he added. “We were hoping it was a hip pointer but it's more than that.”
He was uncertain if he would be able to play in Dallas' season finale at Philadelphia.
Notes: Arizona has 12 returns for TDs this season, one shy of the NFL record set by Seattle in 2003. ... Arizona was without OLB Joey Porter (triceps) and kick returner LaRod Stephens-Howling (hamstring). ... The Cowboys lost LB Leon Williams to a hamstring injury. ... The last time the teams met, on the same field, Sean Morey blocked a punt in overtime and Monty Beisel returned it 3 yards to give Arizona the win.