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Cowboys, Cardinals get football for Christmas

GLENDALE, Ariz. - There will be another Cowboys Christmas. Dallas will be playing on Dec. 25 for the fifth time, more than any other NFL team.

GLENDALE, Ariz. - There will be another Cowboys Christmas. Dallas will be playing on Dec. 25 for the fifth time, more than any other NFL team.

Since they are the Cowboys, there is bound to be a big audience, even if Saturday night's game pits a 5-9 Dallas team against the 4-10 Arizona Cardinals, whose season has been circling the drain for two months.

The Cowboys have won four of six since Wade Phillips was fired and offensive coordinator Jason Garrett became interim coach. Arizona, meanwhile, has lost eight of nine, most recently an embarrassing, 19-12 defeat against what was then a one-win Carolina team.

More than the coaching change, Dallas quarterback Jon Kitna said it was a locker-room visit by Cowboys owner Jerry Jones that was responsible for the turnaround.

"Jerry Jones came in on the day of the change and put everybody on notice," Kitna said, "which was: 'It's your guys' performance that cost the man his job and if you don't think other changes aren't coming if this doesn't stop, you're fooling yourselves.' "

Dallas went on the road and beat the New York Giants and since have victories over Indianapolis; Detroit; and, last Sunday, Washington. The Cowboys blew a 20-point lead against the Redskins before winning on David Buehler's 39-yard field goal with 50 seconds to play.

The Cowboys' only losses since the coaching change were against New Orleans and the Eagles, each by three points.

"It's hard to pinpoint one thing or another," Kitna said when asked to explain the turnaround, "but I think the biggest thing is we've been more consistent running the football, which keeps defenses honest. If I had to say one thing, that would be it."

The Cowboys' offense has fired on all cylinders despite the loss of quarterback Tony Romo with a broken collarbone. This week, the team abandoned any plans for Romo's returning this season, placing him on injured reserve.

The 38-year-old Kitna, who didn't take a snap last season, has completed 66 percent of his passes with 15 touchdowns and 10 interceptions.

"We feel really good about Jon," Garrett said. "We were fortunate to get him a couple of years ago as our backup. He's a very experienced guy, a guy who we believe goes about it the right way. He's very competitive. He works very hard at it."

Big receivers have given the Cardinals big problems this season, so it could be a big night for Dallas tight end Jason Witten, who caught 10 passes for 140 yards against Washington.

"They've got a lot of good football players, explosive players on both sides of the ball," Arizona coach Ken Whisenhunt said. "In the last few games they've been playing well. They haven't been making the mistakes that have cost them and they've made some plays, too. Hopefully from watching that we can do a little bit of the same thing, play a little better, make fewer mistakes, and make some of those plays."

Arizona's quarterback is 16 years younger than Kitna. Rookie John Skelton, just 22, gets his third straight start, returning to the scene of his successful debut in a 43-13 win over Denver two weeks ago, the Cardinals' only victory since Oct. 10.

Skelton grew up in Texas but was no Cowboys fan.

"Nope, I hated the Cowboys," he said. "Everyone around me was a Cowboys fan growing up. My friends, my mother was a big Cowboys fan, but my dad was from Oklahoma. He couldn't stand the Cowboys and he instilled that in me."