ARLINGTON, Texas — An early 10-point hole Sunday afternoon didn’t bother the Arizona Cardinals. They are 7-1 for a reason.
“This is a very good team,” Cardinals quarterback Carson Palmer said. “We feel like we can play with anybody and that’s important because we feel like we are improving.”
Palmer threw three touchdown passes and Arizona cruised to a 28-17 victory over the Dallas Cowboys at AT&T Stadium.
Arizona owns the best record in the league after the clash of division leaders by holding the Tony Romo-less Cowboys in check. The Cowboys have lost consecutive games since winning six straight to surge to the top of the NFC East.
Cardinals running back Andre Ellington racked up 134 yards from scrimmage and caught a 1-yard touchdown from Palmer in the fourth quarter. Palmer finished 22 of 34 for 249 yards and an interception while the Dallas offense sputtered with backup Brandon Weeden at the controls.
The Cardinals limited NFL leading rusher DeMarco Murray to 79 yards, snapping his streak of 100-yard games at eight. Weeden signed in the offseason to back up Romo, completed just 18-of-33 passes for 183 yards and two picks. Weeden did connect with receiver Dez Bryant on a meaningless touchdown late in the fourth quarter.
“We didn’t play well enough on offense,” Cowboys coach Jason Garrett said. “Obviously they
come into it with a commitment to stopping the run. That’s their style of defense.”
Dallas (6-3) heads to London next week to face Jacksonville lugging a two-game losing streak that dropped the Cowboys out of first in the NFC East. Philadelphia (6-2) took the division lead after beating Houston on Sunday.
NFC West-leading Arizona is off to its best start since 1974, and came into Sunday with a two-game lead over San Francisco. The Cardinals are home next week against St. Louis.
“Having been 1-7 before, 7-1 feels a whole lot better,” Arizona coach Bruce Arians said.
Arizona’s special teams and defense came up with big plays once the Cardinals took the lead. A blocked field goal and an interception in the red zone thwarted two Dallas scoring chances.
The defense also stopped Murray on a fourth-and-1 in the fourth quarter at the Cardinals’ 34 and picked off Weeden again on the ensuing possession.
“We are a scrappy group,” Palmer said. “All over the place — offense, defense, special teams. We have a great fight and mind set about us. Nothing is too big to overcome. I think we proved that today.”
Dallas didn’t score on eight consecutive possessions after a field goal on its first drive. Arizona cornerback Antonio Cromartie and safety Tyrann Mathieu each had interceptions in the second half.
“I thought we didn’t play a good game,” said Murray, who has 1,133 rushing yards this season. “We can’t have the turnovers. I don’t know what went on, but we’ve got run the ball better and take some pressure of (Weeden).”
Arizona rallied from a 10-0 deficit to take a 14-10 lead into halftime thanks to two Palmer touchdown passes. Ellington was a workhorse through two quarters with 97 yards total offense.
“We did everything we were trying to put into the game,” Ellington said. “We wanted to run the football on offense. We wanted to stop the run on defense. We wanted to win the turnover battle.”
The Cardinals moved into Dallas territory on their first possession, getting first downs on three straight plays during one stretch before disaster struck.
Palmer was sacked one play before getting picked off by cornerback Tyler Patmon. The undrafted rookie returned the interception 58 yards for a touchdown to give the Cowboys the early lead.
Dallas went up 10-0 after its first offensive drive on kicker Dan Bailey’s 52-yard field goal. The score was set up by Weeden’s 40-yard screen pass to running back Lance Dunbar.
Arizona got on the board early in the second quarter with a deliberate 13-play, 80-yard march. Palmer fired a third-down touchdown toss to tight end John Carlson from 7 yards out.
The Cardinals went 63 yards on their next drive, with Ellington carrying much of the load. Palmer put the visitors on top with an 11-yard pass to receiver Jaron Brown, who scored for the first time this season.
Bailey had a 35-yard attempt blocked at the end of the half by cornerback Justin Bethel. Fellow cornerback Patrick Peterson nearly returned the block for a touchdown, but was stopped short by Witten.