ARLINGTON, Texas -- The Arizona Cardinals can't get by like this all season.
Sure, it's worked thus far. They are 7-1, lead the NFC West and sit atop their conference. But how long can the Cardinals' offense go through stretches like it did throughout the third quarter and into the fourth Sunday without it coming back to bite them? How long can the offense rely on the defense to have its back?
The Cardinals shot themselves in the foot on their first three drives of the second half before the defense made a game-changing stop and handed the offense the ball with the a breakout drive just begging to be finished.
Arizona's first drive of the third quarter ended with a punt three yards behind where it began. On the Cardinals' next drive, they gained 32 yards before punting. And their first drive of the fourth quarter started and ended at its own 19.
Each drive was highlighted by a self-inflicted would:
A 10-yard offensive-holding penalty on tight end John Carlson during the first drive of the third negated a six-yard run by Andre Ellington and moved the sticks backward. The Cards couldn't make up the difference.
A 15-yard chop block was called on Lyle Sendlein, which erased a 12-yard run by Ellington for a first down. Instead of landing in Dallas territory, Arizona was pushed back to its 29.
To Cardinals coach Bruce Arians, any big play in the third quarter started to feel like it was brought back by a penalty.
"It was a getting a little frustrating but our defense hung in there really, really well especially after the one bad field position that they got the ball up around the 45," he said.
"That's just the way our defense has played all year and our offense has hung in there and ‘boom,' they'll make the plays."
That's what made Arizona's first touchdown drive in the fourth impressive. When the Cardinals needed a score, the offense came through. Finally.
It was given the ball back by the defense, which stopped Dallas running back DeMarco Murray on fourth-and-1, at its own 35. Then Arizona took nine plays to go 65 yards in 3:36 to put the Cardinals up 21-10 and send the Cowboys grasping for a win at AT&T Stadium.
"It was big," wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald said. "Anytime you get a chance to have a sudden change in possession like that and the defense has a big stand, we have to answer with some power, as well offensively.
"We were able to do that and I think that really kinda swung the pendulum in terms of the game and the momentum."
Arizona flipped the field on one play that drive. After seeing the safety bite on the inside seam, Palmer hit Ted Ginn on the outside seam for a 27-yard gain along the Cardinals sideline. Ginn, who had four catches this season coming into Sunday, barely kept his feet in bounds.
Watching from the sideline, Arians thought Palmer was going to target John Brown. But Ginn made the catch and Arizona hurried to the line of scrimmage to avoid a replay and Dallas got caught with 12 men on the field after Ellington broke off a 17-yard run.
Ellington said frustration never crept onto the field because, for the second straight week, the Cards found ways to make a big play after the offense stalled.
After the defense stopped Murray, Arians watched his offense jog onto the field. Palmer said this team believes there's nothing too big for it overcome. It showed on that drive.
"They walked out there with a purpose," Arians said. "It wasn't a time to sit back and run the ball. We had to continue to attack and got ourselves in some good, favorable plays and Carson made some good decisions."