IRVING, Texas (AP)—All week, Bill Parcells stressed how important this game was for the Dallas Cowboys.
They got the message.
Rookie Marion Barber rushed for 127 yards and two touchdowns in his first start, and the Cowboys played one of their best all-around games. They scored in a variety of ways, didn’t have any penalties and beat the Arizona Cardinals 34-13 on Sunday.
“Bill challenged us a little bit, that this week was a little bit different than the others,” quarterback Drew Bledsoe said. “The fact that our team answered that challenge, I think, says something about us.”
The Cowboys (5-3) stayed on pace in the jammed NFC East. They also had a good performance going into their bye week, which comes before they have to play three games in 11 days.
“I’m happy to get that one,” Parcells said.
“We would have hated going into the bye at 4-4,” defensive end Greg Ellis said. “It’s a big swing for us, even though it’s only one game.”
For a change, the Cowboys didn’t have anything to worry about in the final few minutes. Except for a 33-10 victory over Philadelphia, the team they play next on Nov. 14, every other Dallas game was determined in the closing minutes.
A week ago, Dallas lost 13-10 at Seattle after the Seahawks scored 10 points in the final 46 seconds. The week before that, the visiting New York Giants tied the game in the final minute before the Cowboys won in overtime.
Early Sunday, one fan held up a sign that said: “The game is 60 minutes long.”
At least, the final 20 or so in this one were used to savor a victory.
Anthony Henry’s 58-yard interception return early in the fourth quarter, the first defensive score for Dallas since Oct. 19, 2003, eliminated any late drama.
The Cardinals (2-5) lost their 14th straight regular-season game at Texas Stadium since 1989.
“I was irritated with the outcome,” Cardinals coach Dennis Green said. “We have to learn to play better, period.”
Arizona had a 3-0 lead after Neil Rackers kicked a 52-yard field goal to end the opening drive. The Cardinals didn’t lead long, and never went ahead again.
Three plays and 80 yards later, Barber twisted his way through several defenders for a 28-yard TD. Barber had picked up 18 yards on the first play and Bledsoe’s short pass to Jason Witten turned into a 34-yard gain.
Barber took over for Julius Jones, who was out for the third straight week with a sprained left ankle and has missed 11 of his 24 career games because of injuries. The rookie ran or 95 yards on 22 carries in Seattle.
“That kid will run, he will block and he will catch,” Parcells said. “I don’t know if he’s going to be Gale Sayers, I kind of doubt that. But he is a complete back. … I’m proud of him. There’s a lot of pressure on him right now.”
Barber put the Cowboys up 24-10 with his second TD, a 10-yarder just before halftime. He took a handoff to the left, cut back and once inside the 5 dived between three defenders, stretching into the end zone.
“Coach Parcells talked all week about how big this game would be,” Barber said. “I’m just glad it turned out the way it did.”
Josh McCown, still starting for Kurt Warner after winning two of the previous three games, completed 16 of 33 passes for 161 yards. He threw a 44-yard TD pass to Anquan Boldin to tie the game at 10 in the second quarter, but also had two interceptions after halftime.
“We just lost our rhythm offensively,” McCown said. “It’s frustrating. At some point, we have to stack some wins together and get some momentum going.”
Boldin will have an MRI on Monday to determine the severity of his right knee injury that forced him out of the game in the fourth quarter. Green said he thought it was a torn meniscus, the same injury that forced the Pro Bowl receiver to miss six games last season.
“I think I’m OK. Hopefully, it’s just a sprain,” said Boldin, adding that the knee bothered him all week. “But it’s bothering me to the point where I’m thinking about it when I play. For me, it’s tough because I’ve been there before.”
Al Singleton broke his right collarbone, and Parcells said the linebacker could be done for the season. … Rackers added a 47-yard field goal and has made all 22 field goal attempts this season, the consecutive streak a Cardinals record. … Opposing kickers are 13-for-13 in field goals against Dallas this season, with four 50-yarders.