Normalcy again rules the top of the NFC East, thanks in part to a controversial pass interference call that took away one St. Louis touchdown, and six turnovers that robbed the Cardinals of a chance for a few others.
The Dallas Cowboys, 24-17 winners over the Cardinals in the chill of Busch Memorial Stadium today, moved into a tie for first place with the Washington Redskins, each with a 7-4 record, while the Cardinals dropped to 6-5, as did the New York Giants.
Finally, with five weeks remaining in the regular season, the division looks the way it is supposed to. If the season ended today, the Redskins would be the division champions because they have beaten the Cowboys this season.
"This sure is a screwy division," offered Dallas quarterback Gary Hogeboom, who completed just 12 of 33 passes for only 147 yards, but threw the winning, 26-yard touchdown pass to Ron Springs with 9:03 remaining.
His adjective works for this game, too.
St Louis quarterback Neil Lomax, who threw for 388 yards by completing 27 of 52 passes, said, "It was not one of my better days."
Before questioning his judgment, consider that he threw two interceptions and fumbled once, and couldn't rally the Cardinals despite four possessions in the final nine minutes.
But, by then, the Cardinals may already have lost their heart.
They came back from a 17-7 halftime deficit to tie the score midway through the third quarter. Dallas was going nowhere. The Cardinals took over on their 19 after a punt. Lomax threw for 24 yards, then 21, to the Dallas 36. After a run and an illegal motion penalty, it was second and 13 at the 39.
Lomax threw deep to Roy Green, his favorite receiver. With cornerback Everson Walls at his shoulder, Green caught the pass and ran into the end zone for what seemed a touchdown. But Green was called for pass interference, and the touchdown turned into a punt, three plays later.
"We got a real break on that," Dallas Coach Tom Landry said. Walls was even more candid. "He did push off on me, but you just don't get calls like this very often. I was surprised they called it. I really was."
Walls said Green brushed him with his shoulder as Green tried to run past him. "He tried to run up my back. I've got a right to my position," Walls said.
Green wasn't so sure: "I had him beat, and when I saw that, I tried to give him a nod to the side and go around him. I don't remember any contact."
The officials remembered it. "As the receiver made his move, he pushed off the defender and then made his move and caught the ball," said referee Gordon McCarter.
Green, a former defensive back, wasn't particularly satisfied with the call. The game hadn't been going well for him to that point; Dallas was double-teaming him on most plays and, Landry later said, "It's the best job we've ever done on Green."
Green and Walls talked about the call. " 'You shouldn't be running so fast,' I told him," Walls said. "He ran right into me. I'll say this, he is my No. 1 nemesis. I don't think, over the years, I have as many interceptions on him as he has touchdown passes on me."
The play may have halted the Cardinals' momentum. "At that point, if we had gone ahead, with the defense we were playing, we might have done okay," Green said.
Landry called the third quarter "the low point of the game for us."
Fortunately for the Cowboys, they played well enough in the other three quarters to win in front of 48,721 freezing fans.
Mistakes hurt the Cardinals in the first half as Dallas went ahead, 17-7. A blocked field goal kick by Neil O'Donoghue led to the Cowboys' first touchdown and a fumble by running back Ottis Anderson led to the second. St. Louis, meanwhile, took advantage of an interception of Hogeboom to drive to its touchdown.
Safety Michael Downs blocked O'Donoghue's 49-yard field goal in the first quarter, and cornerback Ron Fellows picked up the bouncing ball and ran 48 yards to the St. Louis 11 before trying to lateral. The lateral turned into a fumble, but the Cowboys covered it at the four.
Two plays later, Springs spun into the end zone from the one for a 7-0 lead with 8:13 remaining in the first quarter.
The Cowboys made their mistake in their next possession, when Hogeboom, starting in place of Danny White, who had an injured left shoulder, was intercepted by cornerback Jeff Griffin at the Dallas 29. The pass was intended for Mike Renfro, but he slipped on the wet artificial turf, leaving Griffin all alone to make the interception before stepping out of bounds.
Eight plays later, the Cardinals scored when Lomax, reading a blitz, threw a 15-yard pass to wide receiver Pat Tilley.
Anderson's fumble followed the Cowboys' next possession. After an incompletion intended for Anderson, he swept around right end and fumbled when strong safety Dextor Clinkscale hit him. Linebacker Mike Hegman recovered at the St. Louis 41.
Hogeboom completed a six-yard pass to Springs, then a 14-yarder to tight end Doug Cosbie. Moments later, Cosbie was called for pass interference, placing the ball at the 28 for a second-down-and-22 call. Tony Dorsett, who ran for 84 yards, gained 20 on a draw from the shotgun formation. Then, from the eight, Hogeboom completed a swing pass to running back James Jones to give Dallas a 14-7 lead.
Rafael Septien kicked a 35-yard field goal with nine seconds remaining in the half after the Cowboys drove from their two with 1:47 left.
In the third quarter, the Cardinals came back when Lomax's pass to running back Randy Love was tipped by defensive tackle Randy White, but fell into Love's hands for a touchdown, closing the gap to 17-14.
Septien missed on a 48-yard field goal try midway through the quarter and O'Donoghue kicked a 30-yarder with 7:22 remaining in the period, tying the score at 17.