GLENDALE, Ariz. — Never before had an NFL team started a game with a kickoff return for a score, then ended it with a blocked punt in overtime for a touchdown.
It was that kind of crazy day in the desert.
J.J. Arrington, inactive the first four games of the season, opened things up with a 93-yard return for an Arizona score.
Several comebacks and many clutch plays later, Sean Morey blocked Mat McBriar’s punt, then Monty Beisel scooped up the ball and scored from 3 yards to give the Cardinals a wild 30-24 victory over the Dallas Cowboys.
It was the first time in NFL history that a blocked punt for a touchdown ended a game in overtime.
“I can’t remember one that was this crazy,” Arizona quarterback Kurt Warner said, “especially toward the end.”
Morey rushed untouched off the left side of the Dallas line to block the kick. Beisel, a backup linebacker, picked up the ball at about the 3 and bowled over the goal line.
Morey said that in previous punts, his assignment was to double-team Dallas’ Kevin Burnett to set up the return. But this time, Burnett had been moved from tackle to guard.
“They just had new personnel,” Morey said, “so I figured if I have to block the tackle, and the tackle’s not going to block me, then I’m just going to make a play at the end of the game.”
McBriar was hurt on the play and had to be carted off the field in the din of a crowd that included the usual large portion of Dallas fans.
Dallas (4-2) scored 10 points in the final 2 minutes of regulation, sending the game into overtime when Nick Folk’s 52-yard field goal barely cleared the crossbar as the fourth quarter ended.
“It was almost a miracle finish for us,” Dallas coach Wade Phillips said.
Almost isn’t good enough when you’re the Cowboys, who thus far haven’t been the dominating team many expected them to be.
“This season isn’t going to go straight down this narrow path and be a nice and cozy Sunday drive,” Dallas quarterback Tony Romo said.
Folk was in field-goal range only because a 5-yard offside penalty was called against injured Arizona linebacker Travis LaBoy as he tried to limp downfield. The penalty moved the ball from the 40 to the 35.
That was just one of the weird moments in Arizona’s sixth consecutive home victory.
“It didn’t seem like the bounces or the calls were going our way and sometimes you have to overcome those things,” said Cardinals coach Ken Whisenhunt, whose team is 9-2 at home since he became coach. “I think our team did that. That’s part of growing up and getting mentally tougher.”
Arizona (4-2) scored 17 consecutive points, including a pair of touchdown passes by Warner, to go up 24-14 on Neil Rackers’ 41-yard field goal with 3:17 left in regulation.
Romo, who threw three touchdown passes but fumbled twice under fierce pressure, connected with Marion Barber on a 70-yard scoring play that cut it to 24-21 with 2 minutes left.
Dallas’ defense held, and the Cowboys got the ball at their 32. Romo connected with Patrick Crayton on a 30-yard play to the Arizona 39, where the Dallas quarterback spiked the ball with 4 seconds to play to stop the clock.
LaBoy was far upfield.
“I think we were about 60 yards offsides on the play,” Whisenhunt said.
Officials, who had a difficult day all around, huddled for several minutes and even reviewed the play before Folk’s tying kick.
The Cowboys scored the last time they had the ball in the first half and on their first possession of the second to take a 14-7 lead.
Romo was sacked three times and had to hurry his throw on several other occasions.
“Today I got hit blindside for the first time in awhile,” he said. “But they’re good. Their D-line played an outstanding football game. You’ve got to give them credit. That was, I thought, the difference of the game.”
Before the blocked punt, Arizona’s biggest play of the game came the next time the Cardinals had the ball and it was third-and-17 on their 33.
Warner’s pass was tipped at the line of scrimmage, but the intended receiver, rookie Tim Hightower, still caught it. Hightower powered to the first down, and the Cardinals went on for the tying score.
Larry Fitzgerald’s leaping catch between defenders on a 30-yard play led to Warner’s 11-yard touchdown pass to Steve Breaston that put Arizona ahead 21-14 with 10:44 left in regulation.