IRVING, Texas (AP)—Emmitt Smith was all smiles. Fans were cheering his every move and flashbulbs were popping. He looked around happily, savoring his return to Texas Stadium just like he’d hoped. Everything was going his way.
Then the game began. And nothing went right again.
Smith lost 4 yards on his first carry and finished with minus-1, the worst outing of his career. He was pounded nearly every time he got the ball and was knocked out early in the second quarter with a sprained left shoulder.
“Every player wants to play four quarters, play his best and do everything possible to help his team win,” Smith said. “I wasn’t able to do that today.”
There was no immediate word from the team on whether Smith would miss any time. He’s missed just four games in his 13-plus NFL seasons.
“We have to go back and do more tests on it,” Smith said. “But the early diagnosis is a sprained AC joint. I think I’ll be OK, though.”
Quincy Carter threw for 277 yards and two touchdowns and the defense allowed just 151 yards and provided two safeties in a four-play span in the third quarter as Bill Parcells earned his first home win as coach of the Cowboys.
Dallas (3-1) already was up by a touchdown when Smith went out, then pulled away for its first three-game winning streak since opening 1999 at 3-0.
“This game was nothing personal to Emmitt,” said safety Darren Woodson, who spent 11 years playing with Smith. “It was about beating the Cardinals.”
Smith, the NFL’s career leading rusher, usually performs his best in big games, and no game this season will be bigger to him than this one.
Thousands of fans wore blue No. 22 jerseys, and even a few red ones. There were many welcome back signs, including a huge one that read “Once A Cowboy, Always A Cowboy” next to the Cardinals’ tunnel. None poked fun at his statement that he felt like a “diamond surrounded by trash” during his last season in Dallas.
He was applauded from the moment he stepped onto the field, even sharing a brief hug with Cowboys owner Jerry Jones, who wished him good luck.
Smith took part in the coin toss, then returned to the bench giddy over winning it. Cameras clicked as he swapped a ballcap for his helmet, pulled up his red socks, looked around proudly and got in place to watch the opening kickoff.
His fun ended on the first play. La’Roi Glover blew through blockers and wrapped up Smith 4 yards behind the line.
With six carries for minus-1 yard and two catches for 2 yards, Smith had the least-productive of his 206 career games, 201 of which were for Dallas.
He had only 25 yards on 12 carries his previous game and has just 192 yards through five games with Arizona (1-4).
Smith lost yards on four of his eight touches and had no gain twice. His best effort was 6 yards on a third-and-8 swing pass.
The Cowboys usually didn’t just tackle him. They tried humiliating him, too.
Dat Nguyen swiped his arms to gesture an emphatic, “No!” after a 1-yard loss. Former dominoes mate Willie Blade stood over Smith in a Muhammad Ali-type taunt after Smith fell and lost 4 yards on a screen.
On his final play, Smith went between the guard and tackle on the left side. Williams arrived in the hole when Smith did.
“I gave him a little love tap,” Williams said, smiling. “Seriously, I hope he’s all right.”
The Cowboys insisted they weren’t trying to prove a point or get back at Smith for the trash quote.
“We didn’t want to get embarrassed by him,” Nguyen said. “He knows our defense inside and out.”
Smith’s exit ended the most ballyhooed return of an ex-Cowboy since Jimmy Johnson came in as coach of the Miami Dolphins on Thanksgiving 1999. Still, fans had plenty to cheer.
Carter, who lost his job after an awful performance against Arizona last season, opened Dallas’ second drive with a 51-yard touchdown pass to Terry Glenn on a perfectly executed flea flicker. Carter followed with an 18-yard TD pass to Richie Anderson, and finished 20-of-31.
Billy Cundiff sandwiched two field goals around halftime, then the Cowboys sacked Jeff Blake in the end zone on consecutive possessions. Both were set up by pinpoint punts, with Arizona’s rookie sensation Anquan Boldin making the mistake of calling for a fair catch at the 4 before the first.
Blake was 14-of-28 for 121 yards, two interceptions and a 24-yard touchdown to Brian Gilmore that made it 7-7.
Smith said the trip to Dallas wasn’t a total loss. He got to see one of his daughters play soccer Saturday.
“The experience in itself was everything,” Smith said. “Just coming back here and seeing Texas Stadium and having a chance to play here in front of the Cowboys fans, it was wonderful.
“It will go down as one of the unique experiences I’ve ever experienced.”
Boldin, who came in with 30 catches for 464 yards, had just 33 yards on three receptions. … Glenn had four catches for 104 yards. In four games, he’s been shut out twice and had two 100-yard outings. … This was Dallas’ 13th straight home win over Arizona—in the regular season. The Cardinals won herein the playoffs in January 1999.