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Costly non-call gnaws at Cards

Arizona coach Vince Tobin still can see the play clearly. If his memory fades, all he has to do is pop a tape in the VCR or look at the photos in a national magazine.

Quarterback Jake Plummer drops back and lofts a pass to Rob Moore in the corner of the end zone. Cowboys cornerback Kevin Smith prevents Moore from making the catch as time expires. The Cardinals argue Smith should be called for pass interference.

They lose the argument and the game 35-28.

"I don't think there's any question the wrong call was made," Tobin said.

The Cowboys have beaten the Cardinals twice this season by a combined 73-38. Dallas has won 16 of the past 17 in the series.

But it's the end of that game Nov. 15 that stands out as the teams prepare to meet in a wild-card affair today at Texas Stadium.

"Upon further review, and from looking at the pictures that were in some publications, it looked like pass interference," Plummer said. "But there's nothing we can do about it now, especially since they didn't call it."

The Cardinals offered little resistance in losing 38-10 to open the season. Arizona showed no competitive pulse to start the rematch, falling behind 28-0.

Then Plummer went to work. In the second half he threw for 314 of his 465 yards _ the second-biggest day ever against the Cowboys. He fired two passes into the end zone in the final nine seconds to give the Cardinals a chance to tie or go for the win.

Most of the Cowboys don't even try to maintain Smith's innocence. They smile or give a non-answer when asked if interference should have been called.

"It doesn't matter," defensive coordinator Dave Campo said. "The game was over. We won. They don't talk about the phantom holding call on fourth and 3 (in the third quarter) that led to a touchdown. It all balances out."

The Cardinals say it didn't.

"We went on and were able to salvage our season and get something out of it," Plummer said. "Had we gone the other way and gone south because of that call, then we'd probably have harsher feelings toward it. But we made it to the playoffs, and we have another shot now to go and play Dallas.

"It's going to be fun for us."

Cardinals (9-7) at Cowboys (10-6)

4:15 p.m. today

TV: Chs. 28, 40

LINE: Cowboys by 7

WHERE: Texas Stadium, Irving

ANNOUNCERS: Mike Patrick, Joe Theismann, Paul Maguire

PLAYOFF IMPACT: If Dallas wins, it plays at Atlanta next week. If Arizona wins, it plays at Minnesota.

KEY INJURIES: Cardinals _ TE Johnny McWilliams (hamstring), WR Frank Sanders (knee) are questionable. Cowboys _ DE Kavika Pittman (hamstring), RB Chris Warren (groin) are out. CB Deion Sanders (toe) is doubtful. TE David LaFleur (knee) is questionable.

CARDINALS NOTES: Arizona has a lot of history to battle. The Cardinals haven't won a playoff game since 1947, haven't won in Texas Stadium since 1989 and have beaten Dallas once in the past 17 meetings. Only 11 Cardinals have been in the playoffs, a total of 46 games. Dallas players have 225 games of playoff experience. Of the Cardinals' nine victories, seven were by three or fewer points, an NFL record. They enter the playoffs on a season-best three-game winning streak, but all were won on field goals by Chris Jacke on the final play. Jake Plummer threw for 465 yards in his last game against Dallas, including 314 after the Cardinals fell behind 28-0.

COWBOYS NOTES: Dallas will look to pound the ball behind RB Emmitt Smith, who bounced back in the final two weeks against Philadelphia and Washington to average 121 yards. In two games against Arizona, Dallas rushed for 334 yards on 78 carries, including 239 yards and three scores by Smith. With a win, the Cowboys would become the eighth team in 12 tries to win three straight against an opponent in the same season. Chan Gailey is the 10th active NFL coach to reach the playoffs in his first season. Only Steve Mariucci (1997), Ray Rhodes (1995) and Bobby Ross (1992) won their first playoff games.

HOOPER'S PICK: Cowboys 28, Cardinals 21