Nine months after being embarrassed by the Arizona Cardinals, the Dallas Cowboys returned the favor today.
Raghib Ismail's 63-yard touchdown catch helped the Cowboys take a big early lead and Greg Ellis ended the Cardinals' comeback hopes with a 98-yard fumble return for a fourth-quarter score in a 35-7 victory.
By exorcising the memories of a 20-7 playoff loss to Arizona at Texas Stadium, Dallas (3-0) continued its best start since 1995 and kept pace with St. Louis as the only undefeated teams in the NFC.
The Cowboys were written off as being too old following the Jan. 2 loss, with the Cardinals supposedly the up-and-comers in the NFC East.
But Arizona (1-3) hasn't been able to maintain its success. Today the Cardinals fell behind by three touchdowns for the second time this season and committed five turnovers. Dallas has won 17 of the last 19 games in the series.
"I don't know where the team is right now," Arizona defensive lineman Simeon Rice said. "We're trying to be positive, but it's so easy to be negative."
The Cardinals' problems began with quarterback Jake Plummer, who upped his league-worst interception total to 12 with three today--beginning with his first pass. George Teague returned it 32 yards to give the Cowboys a 7-0 lead 1 minute 32 seconds into the first quarter.
Troy Aikman (15 of 21, 192 yards) threw touchdown passes to Michael Irvin in the first quarter and to Ismail early in the second to put Dallas up, 21-0. However, Plummer verged on starting one of the comebacks that have become his trademark.
Poor clock management by the Cowboys saved enough time for Plummer to throw a two-yard touchdown pass to Joel Mackovicka with 11 seconds left in the first half. It was the first first-half touchdown the Cardinals have scored this season.
But their momentum slowed when Dallas used nearly half the third quarter on the first possession of the second half.
Aikman and Emmitt Smith (77 rushing yards) led the way, and Ismail kept the drive alive with a 14-yard gain on a third-and-three swing pass. Smith scored from the 1 on the next play to put the Cowboys up, 28-7.
Ellis's game-sealing score was his second in as many games. He had an 87-yard interception return in a 24-7 victory over Atlanta.