ARLINGTON, Texas — For three quarters, the Cowboys were too sluggish.
By the time they rallied in the fourth quarter, it was too late.
The Cowboys began to find rhythm, began to stop Kyler Murray, began to not just earn yards but also find the end zone.
But the Cardinals had already mounted a lead they wouldn’t surrender in a 25-22 win. And thus, in a game the Cowboys had agreed could make a statement, Dallas fell to 11-5 while Arizona improved to 11-5. With the Cowboys falling from the NFC’s second seed to the fourth entering the final week of the regular season, the teams could meet again as soon as in two weeks in a wild-card playoff game.
The Cowboys offense that helped drop 56 points on Washington a week prior managed just 7 through the first three periods. Prescott’s passes were alternately high and low, dropped and swatted. He began to utilize legs that he had been saving for games that mattered most. But one 12-yard scramble was called back due to an offensive line penalty. Another time, Prescott slipped upfield in the fourth quarter only to be swarmed by Cardinals linebackers Jordan Hicks and Isaiah Simmons.
Simmons punched loose the ball, a fumble the Cowboys couldn’t afford.
Cowboys rookie linebacker Micah Parsons was productive, including on two tackles for loss and multiple pressures of Murray. But ultimately, Murray’s athleticism and knack for escaping the pocket neutralized much of the Cowboys’ pass-rush threat. No matter that Arizona lacked key offensive weapons. In this losing-streak-snapping game, Murray found Antoine Wesley for two touchdowns. Cardinals kicker Matt Prater added four more field goals on four attempts.
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Murray finished the game 25-of-38 for 263 yards and two touchdowns in addition to 44 rushing yards on nine carries. Prescott completed 24 of 38 attempts for 226 yards and three touchdowns, rushing five times for 20 yards and losing one fumble.
Through the week, Dallas had insisted: Facing Arizona offered a chance to make a statement. The Cowboys hoped their healthy squad was peaking at the right time to unhinge a Cardinals team led by Murray, a North Texas native who had never lost at AT&T Stadium throughout his high school, college and pro careers.
Instead, Cowboys cohesion was insufficient, Arizona outgaining Dallas 399 yards to 301 and completing seven of 16 third downs to Dallas’ three of 11.
The Cowboys conclude their season at Philadelphia next week, their NFC East title secured but playoff seeding continuing to materialize.
Follow USA TODAY Sports’ Jori Epstein on Twitter @JoriEpstein.