Tied for league’s best record thanks to their best start in 40 years, the Arizona Cardinals may have their most opportune chance to finally beat the Dallas Cowboys on the road.
While the Cowboys hope Tony Romo’s back cooperates, Carson Palmer will try to keep the Cardinals rolling Sunday.
The Cardinals (6-1) haven’t enjoyed a better start to a season since winning the first seven games of 1974, when they were in St. Louis. That run also ended with a three-point loss in Dallas, and they haven’t come that close to winning there in decades aside from a wild-card victory in January 1999.
Arizona has been outscored by an average of 21.2 points while dropping 14 straight regular-season road meetings with the Cowboys (6-2) since winning in 1989. However, its last visit came at Texas Stadium in 2005.
All three meetings since have been home wins for the Cardinals, who are tied with Denver for the league’s best record.
Arizona won a third straight game after Palmer hit John Brown on a 75-yard touchdown pass with 1:21 left in last week’s 24-20 victory over Philadelphia. That overshadowed reaching at least 10 penalties for the second time in three games, while the defense surrendered 411 passing yards.
"We realize we can play better," said Palmer, who completed 20 of 42 passes for 329 yards while also connecting on an 80-yard TD. "I think we’re realistic in that we can play better and we need to play better.
"Realizing all the negative things that happened and we still keep getting wins, I do think we have a good swagger about us, a confidence, and that will continue to live if we keep winning."
That confidence may grow further if they don’t have to deal with Romo, who’s expected to be a game-time decision due to his third back injury in 18 months.
The quarterback, who underwent back surgery in December, claimed he "dodged a bullet" after being sacked in the third quarter of Monday’s 20-17 overtime loss to Washington. He exited after the hit, but returned and finished with 209 yards and a touchdown while connecting on 17 of 28 passes.
"Anytime someone’s had back surgery you’re always a little bit nervous when you get hit in a specific instance like that," Romo said. "The positive is it’s completely unrelated to the disk or anything that could be long term, per se. So that part of if, yeah, that’s a positive."
If Romo can’t go, backup Brandon Weeden will get his first start since December with Cleveland. He led Dallas on two scoring drives in Romo’s absence last week, hitting Jason Witten on a 25-yard TD pass that forced overtime, leaving many to question coach Jason Garrett’s decision to return to Romo.
Weeden claims he’s ready if Garrett needs him again.
"I’m going to treat it no different," Weeden said. "If he’s able to go, that’s the best thing. We’ll see how everything plays out."
Romo, though, is second in the NFC with a 103.6 passer rating, while his 68.2 completion percentage is among the league leaders. He’ll look to take advantage of facing the Cardinals, who give up a league-high 302.9 passing yards per game despite ranking third with 10 interceptions.
Whether it’s Romo or Weeden under center, DeMarco Murray will likely carry the load offensively. The running back leads the NFL with 1,054 yards while averaging 5.1 per carry with seven scores. He needs 67 yards to match his career high from last year, and he’s reached at least 100 in each game this season.
The Cardinals, though, entered Week 8 allowing a league-low 72.5 run yards per game before giving up 110 to the Eagles.
They’re expected to have cornerback Patrick Peterson back after he cleared concussion protocols earlier this week following a collision with teammate Deone Bucannon and Eagles receiver Jeremy Maclin.
Still, Palmer’s efficiency has been superb. He’s led Arizona to wins in each of his four games, throwing eight touchdowns compared to one interception.
He may have some sympathy for Romo since a shoulder injury ruled him out for three games earlier this season, and Arizona won two of them behind backup Drew Stanton.
Cowboys owner Jerry Jones doesn’t question Romo’s toughness.
"I don’t know that I’ve ever seen anybody who has a tougher will, his mind, and it helps him tremendously with pain threshold," Jones said. "Combination of those two things, he’s as tough-minded and physically tough a player as I’ve ever been around."