Cowboys 17, Cardinals 3

Monday, October 29th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

IRVING, Texas (AP) _ Dexter Coakley was all alone at the 10-yard line with a ball coming his way. This time, it was easy.

Unlike two weeks ago, Coakley intercepted this pass. The Dallas linebacker's strut turned into a sprint to beat some would-be tacklers, but he got into the end zone, and the Cowboys beat the Arizona Cardinals 17-3 Sunday for their second straight victory.

``I dropped one that probably would have been a touchdown two weeks ago,'' Coakley said. ``My first thought was, 'Don't drop the ball.' I looked down to make sure I got it.''

Coakley's TD highlighted a big day for the Cowboys' defense, which prevented another comeback by Jake Plummer. The Arizona quarterback didn't have a chance.

The Cardinals were pinned back to their 1 when Plummer was flushed to the back of the end zone. Instead of taking a safety, he threw the ball _ right to Coakley with 1:55 left in the third quarter.

``I blew a gasket and made a poor decision. That ball needs to be heaved into the stadium,'' Plummer said. ``I've never been in that position before. I thought, `Don't take a safety.'''

Plummer, who has 13 fourth-quarter comebacks, including one against Dallas last season, had three more drives in the fourth quarter. All ended with incompletions on fourth down, the first coming after the Cardinals drove to the 4, and he was sacked hard on consecutive plays.

``Our defense is starting to get an attitude. That is key if we are going to continue to improve and win,'' Cowboys coach Dave Campo said.

Even though the Cowboys are just 2-4, with consecutive wins for the first time since starting 3-0 in 1999, they are only a game behind NFC East leader Philadelphia (3-3).

Arizona, which got its only points on Bill Gramatica's 27-yard field goal in the first quarter, is also 2-4.

Emmitt Smith insisted he was OK despite having his right knee wrapped, the result of spraining it on a running play right after the two-minute warning. The NFL's second-leading career rusher will be re-evaluated Monday, but the injury isn't considered serious.

Dallas quarterback Clint Stoerner, who went to training camp fourth on the depth chart after a mediocre summer with the Scottish Claymores of NFL Europe, was efficient in his first start.

Stoerner, playing only because Quincy Carter and Anthony Wright are hurt and recently signed Ryan Leaf isn't ready, was 9-of-18 for 93 yards and ran seven times for 23 yards, including a 6-yard touchdown on a quarterback draw.

Coaches stuck with Stoerner despite two fumbled snaps, one of which was lost at the Arizona 9, and a fourth-quarter interception.

Plummer finished 25-of-42 for 233 yards and two interceptions, after throwing none the previous two games. David Boston caught nine passes for 108 yards.