(AP) — The last two times the Dallas Cowboys came to the desert, they lost in excruciating fashion.
A blocked punt in overtime cost them in 2008, and after Arizona converted on fourth-and-19, Jay Feely booted a 48-yard field goal with 5 seconds left to give the Cardinals 27-26 victory last Christmas.
So there should be no looking past the 4-7 Cardinals on Sunday by a Dallas team that, at 7-4, holds a one-game lead over the New York Giants in the NFC East. The Giants are at Dallas next weekend.
"Never do we go into Arizona and not have a tough game," Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo said. "It just continually happens since I've been here. It just seems like that's always taken shape. We've got to be prepared for a tough, grind-it-out football game."
The Cowboys have won four in a row, and a victory Sunday would give them their longest winning streak since they won seven straight in 2007. The streak left Romo 17-2 in November, so the Cardinals must be pleased this one is on Dec. 4.
"He's a guy that's scary because he makes plays," Arizona coach Ken Whisenhunt said. "Just in the last game (20-19 over Miami on Thanksgiving), there at the end, he had that last drive. He moved around and made plays and made throws. That's the thing that you have to be careful with this guy. He's always looking down the field, even when he has to scramble or move in the pocket. He can make those throws."
The Cardinals have won three of four, but two were against the St. Louis Rams, now 2-9, and one was at reeling Philadelphia. Arizona is 0-4 against teams that currently have a winning record.
The Cardinals are expected to have quarterback Kevin Kolb in the lineup for the first time in five games. A frustratingly slow-to-heal right turf toe and bruise on the side of the same foot has sidelined him for four games. While Arizona has gone 3-1 in his absence, backup John Skelton struggled mightily the past two games, completing a combined 18 of 42 for 213 yards, with no touchdowns with five interceptions.
Kolb grew up in Texas as a Cowboys fan, specifically a Troy Aikman fan, so he likes the idea of coming back against Dallas.
"It will be fun," Kolb said. "They are playing well right now on both sides of the ball, leading their division. It will be a true test for us and we know that. We are ready for it. We feel like we are getting better in all phases."
It won't be much fun if his mobility is hampered by the injury as he tries to evade Dallas' powerful pass rush, led by DeMarcus Ware, who leads the NFL with 14 sacks.
"Their front seven is as good as anybody's," Kolb said. "Rob Ryan does a good job of mixing a lot of different looks in there, getting mismatches here and there that he wants. That causes a lot of disturbance. When things get like that, you just have to play your own game, focus in on the details of your own offense, and try to simplify things and do them right."
Arizona running back Beanie Wells said it's important for him to have some success on the ground to keep the pressure off Kolb. Wells, despite a nagging right knee injury that limits him in practice, set a franchise record with 228 yards rushing in last Sunday's 23-20 win at St. Louis.
"We don't want to go out there and say it was a fluke — it happened one time — and we can't run the ball successfully, we can't block successfully, like we did that game," Wells said.
Dallas' standout punter, Mat McBriar, will face the NFL's rising punt-return star Patrick Peterson, the rookie whose fourth return for a TD this season came last week against St. Louis and tied a league record.
"It's easier said than done to say we're going to punt it out of bounds or we're going to do this with the ball," Dallas coach Jason Garrett said. "Those are hard things to do. Every team that faces the Cardinals has this challenge. It's very important for our coverage teams to play well and keep him contained, and to tackle him well. He's really exceptional. I think the evidence has been out there over the course of the first 11 games."
Arizona's defense has played better lately, growing more comfortable in the scheme of first-year coordinator Ray Horton. But against the Cowboys, the Cardinals will be challenged not only by Romo and his receivers but by rookie running back DeMarco Murray, who in his first extensive playing time following an injury to Felix Jones set a single-game franchise rushing record of 253 yards. Like Wells, he did it against the Rams.
Murray has gained 834 yards, averaging 5.7 per carry.
"He was banged up early in training camp and didn't really play very much in the preseason until the last preseason game," Garrett said. "He was working his way to getting some more reps as the season started, and then he got a real good opportunity against the Rams a few weeks back and did a really good job for us running the football. He's certainly helped us a great deal, and we're hopeful that he'll continue to play as well as he has."
The teams have met 86 times and used to face each other twice a season when they belonged to the NFC East. In the old days, before University of Phoenix Stadium was built, about the only time Arizona sold out at home was when the Cowboys came to town and their fans packed Sun Devil Stadium. Even now, a good share of the crowd will be cheering on the Cowboys.
And as for those last two hair-raising matchups, "Don't mean nothing," Cardinals defensive tackle Darnell Dockett said. "Different teams, different records, different personnel. Don't mean nothing."