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Dallas carries long winning string into Arizona

September 4, 1997

TEMPE, Ariz. (AP) _ Forget the Dallas Cowboys’ obvious weapons _ the game-in-game-out magnificence of Emmitt Smith, Troy Aikman’s arm and experience, the pre-eminence of Michael Irvin and Deion Sanders at their positions.

Before the Arizona Cardinals can beat the Cowboys they have to conquer their own demons. They may already have ruined their season trying.

It would take something unthinkable _ like upsetting the Cowboys on Sunday night _ for Cardinals players or fans to forget their collapse in Cincinnati, where they blew a 21-3 lead in the fourth quarter and lost 24-21.

The debacle began in the third quarter, but its defining moment came when sure-handed Larry Centers fumbled with 1:10 to go. The Bengals drove 63 yards for the winning touchdown.

``When you lose that way, that is just gut-wrenching,″ said Dallas coach Barry Switzer, who decided to go for a fourth-and-a-foot against Philadelphia in 1995, failed and saw the Eagles beat his team with a field goal. ``I know what they’re dealing with. I’ve had that happen before, and I understand. But they’re pros. They’ve got to shake it off.″

The Cardinals have a lot of experience rebounding from defeats.

The opening-day loss in Cincinnati was hauntingly reminiscent of the Cowboys’ last visit to Sun Devil Stadium. Arizona was leading 6-0 in the third quarter on Dec. 8 when Leeland McElroy turned the corner, ran 32 yards into Dallas territory _ and fumbled.

Sanders recovered, and four plays later, Irvin scored on a 50-yard pass-run. The Cowboys were on their way to a 10-6 win.

Had the Cardinals held on, they would have gone 8-8 under first-year coach Vince Tobin and ended years of dominance by the Cowboys, who have won 13 straight in this NFC East rivalry.

Instead, they now face a team that routed the Pittsburgh Steelers 37-7 on opening day behind Aikman’s four touchdown passes.

The Cardinals, in Arizona since 1988, have yet to open in Tempe with a victory. And their worst tormenter is Dallas, which has a huge following in the Phoenix area and has beaten the Cardinals in three of the nine home-opener losses.

Wide receiver Kevin Williams, who left Dallas for the Cardinals in the offseason, recognizes that the Cowboys are better than ever. But he thinks that will help Arizona.

``We’re not that far away from putting it together,″ Williams said. ``But close losses hurt the worst because you try so hard and come up short. In situations like this, you’ve got to bring on one of the top dogs and take them down.″

The Cardinals never threw to Williams against the Bengals, who has tried not to reminisce about playing with a quarterback like Aikman and the potent Cowboys ground game.

``I wish I could have had more balls thrown my way, but I guess any athlete is like that,″ Williams said.

Meanwhile, Anthony Miller, whose arrival in June drove Williams to leave via free agency, gives the Cowboys their best 1-2 receiving punch since Alvin Harper left in 1995.

Miller caught two passes against the Steelers, and his presence on the field opened up Irvin for a seven-catch, 153-yard day. Both averaged nearly 22 yards a reception.

Aikman said his 295-yard performance doesn’t mean the Cowboys will abandon the running game that has carried Smith to six consecutive 1,000-yard seasons.

``Our philosophy has not changed,″ he said.

The two-edged Dallas attack has the attention of Cardinals outside linebacker Jamir Miller. Tobin moved him from the right side to the left side, where a majority of the other team’s plays are run, to replace Seth Joyner. Then Eric Hill broke his leg against Cincinnati.

Instead of moving Miller inside, Tobin gave right outside starter Ronald McKinnon the job, and put Terry Irving in McKinnon’s old spot.

The Cardinals’ 4-3 will face the Cowboys with not one linebacker in the same starting position as last season. But Miller says he’s ready after a 13-tackle, one-sack game that Tobin praised as a career best for the fourth-year player.

``They’re giving me some opportunities to make some plays,″ said Miller, now looked to as a leader at age 23. ``I understand the defense a lot better than last year, and I understand how the game works a lot better. That in itself instills confidence in me.″

End Advance

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