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Beat Writers Recap: Cowboys-Cardinals

Christmas night was one of the more heartbreaking losses of the season for the Cowboys. You could say they rallied from a 21-3 deficit to take a 26-24 lead on a Miles Austin touchdown reception. But David Buehler's missed point after attempt gave the Cardinals a chance to win the game with a field goal. Jay Feely did it with five seconds to play in the game.

In our weekly Beat Writers Recap we look at the last offensive and defensive drives of the game and take note of a few plays that could have changed things for the Cowboys.

*With the Cowboys down 24-20, third-string quarterback Stephen McGee did some nice things in the pocket to give himself some time on this scoring drive, and Austin made up for a bad drop to give the Cowboys the lead.

*During the eight-play drive, the Cowboys used the shotgun formation every time, and McGee made three good plays. On the second play of the drive, McGee ran up the middle for an 11-yard run when under pressure. McGee was looking at tight end Jason Witten, who was in the middle of the field but was pushed to the ground by strong safety Adrian Wilson, drawing an illegal contact penalty. McGee showed patience on the next play as he waited for Austin to run a drag route across the middle of the field to catch a 9-yard pass.

*On first-and-10 from the 50, center Andre Gurode sent a snap low and to the left that McGee should have handled, but we give him a pass since this was his first-regular season game. Gurode has to get the snap right on target in these situations.

*A third-and-5 play should have been a first-down catch, but Austin dropped a pass in front of the Arizona sidelines. Austin was bailed out for his mistake on the next play when cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie pulled receiver Sam Hurd down to draw an interference call on a fourth-down pass.

*The touchdown that put the Cowboys ahead, 26-24, was set up when Austin took a jab step toward the inside then ran down the field to give him some space on the defender. McGee made a nice throw to Austin, who maintained his concentration to catch the ball after Cardinals safety Rashad Johnson mistimed his jump to knock the ball down.

*With a chance to move the lead to three points, Buehler missed the point after attempt. Holder Mat McBriar took the snap and didn't get the ball spun around with the laces facing away from Buehler. But the laces were to the side, and Buehler kicked the ball low. It seems as if Buehler just shanked the kick more than anything else.

*The Cowboys' defense had a chance to close the game on several plays but failed. Gerald Sensabaugh set the tone for the drive when his hit forced Larry Fitzgerald to drop a pass on a first down. Things continued to go well from there when DeMarcus Ware beat Levi Brown one-on-one to get a sack of John Skelton. Here's where things get tricky. Cornerback Mike Jenkins looked as if he had an interception on a screen pass when Skelton's throw hit him in the hands. Jenkins seemed surprised to see the ball, but the ball hitting the ground signaled a positive sign for the Cowboys.

*Here's where it all goes wrong. The Cowboys were in zone coverage and Jay Ratliff and Ware were double-teamed, giving Skelton time to connect with Fitzgerald for a 26-yard gain on fourth-and-15. On the next play with Ware on the sideline because he was tired, Brandon Williams and Anthony Spencer missed Skelton from different sides on the pass rush. Williams and Spencer dived at Skelton, but he scrambled for 5 yards.

*It's second-and-10 from the Cowboys 44 and Orlando Scandrick comes on the blitz and misses Skelton. Cowboys are in zone coverage again and Skelton finds Max Komar for 19 yards. That play put the Cardinals at the Cowboys 25, and despite an illegal formation penalty that pushed it back 5 yards, Feely made his 48-yarder to win the game.

Notes: On the last drive, Ratliff and Ware missed at least two plays because they were tired. ... Roy Williams, who was battling a groin injury, was in on the last drive but not much of a factor. ... When Austin gets over 100 receiving yards, the Cowboys are 0-5. ... Dallas is 0-9 when trailing after three quarters and 2-8 in games decided by seven points or fewer.