ARLINGTON, Texas - From the day he was drafted, Stephen McGee understood the pecking order among Dallas Cowboys quarterbacks. Tony Romo was the starter, Jon Kitna the backup. His role was to be seen and not heard, to absorb as much as he could without getting in the way.

No problem, McGee figured. He had a lot to learn anyway.

A former option quarterback at Texas A&M, McGee immersed himself in learning the pro game. He rented a house two stop signs from team headquarters and spent so much time at the facility that Kitna said McGee should pay rent there, too.

As much as everyone praised his effort, the Cowboys weren't all that interested in seeing what they had in their second-year third-stringer no matter how much of a mess this season had become. Dallas went into last weekend's game against Arizona with neither team having a shot at the playoffs and interim coach Jason Garrett said he would only use McGee if Kitna got hurt.

Well, that's exactly what happened.

McGee played the entire second half and took Dallas from 11 points down to leading by two in the final minutes. He didn't have any turnovers and made a terrific throw to Miles Austin for the go-ahead touchdown. It was the kind of performance worthy of an encore, yet Garrett is sticking with the original pecking order.

Kitna will start the finale Sunday against Philadelphia if a strained abdominal muscle stops hurting. He said yesterday he hopes to practice today or tomorrow.

McGee is getting ready to make his first career start just in case.

He ran the first team in practice yesterday, a great opportunity in itself.

"I had fun going out there in practice today, competing, getting guys in and out of the huddle," McGee said. "I love that. I love playing football, being around the game. This is my dream job, playing quarterback in the NFL, especially for the Dallas Cowboys. I'm having a blast and just continuing to get better this week and making strides toward Sunday."