Stephen McGee doesn't miss his chance

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- The cries for Stephen McGee have grown louder since the Dallas Cowboys were officially eliminated from the playoffs.

On Saturday, those wanting to see more of McGee got their wish and almost had their dream, too.

With 1:41 left to play, McGee floated a perfect pass down the seam to Miles Austin for a 37-yard touchdown and a 26-24 lead. The Cowboys fans inside University of Phoenix Stadium erupted. The Cowboys' sideline was beyond giddy.

McGee took time to drop to his knee and say a prayer.

But David Buehler missed the ensuing point-after attempt, allowing the Arizona Cardinals the chance to win the game on a Jay Feely field goal with five seconds to play.

Instead of talking about McGee's heroics and the 80-yard go-ahead drive, the focus is on the missed extra point and the defense's inability to close out the Cardinals on fourth-and-15 from their 19.

As he sat in his hotel room Friday night, McGee had dreamed this comeback dream. Instead, he had to endure the grueling final seconds with a baseball cap on the sideline.

"You want the ball in your hands as a quarterback," said McGee, who went 11-for-17 for 111 yards and a touchdown. "It's tough. You feel like you got punched in the gut."

Inside the stung locker room after the 10th loss of the year, praise for McGee was widespread. Owner/general manager Jerry Jones liked how McGee avoided mistakes. Interim head coach Jason Garrett said McGee handled himself well in the first action of his career. Tight end Jason Witten said, "He's got a little something to him."

"We didn't have to get used to him for nothing," right guard Leonard Davis said. "He called the plays. He did everything he was supposed to do. Nothing more, nothing less. I'll say it: I'm proud of him because most third quarterbacks in this league, they'll go in and, man, they tend to fold. But he did his job."

McGee was in the game only because Jon Kitna suffered a left oblique injury in the second quarter.

For McGee, this was his chance. It was what he lost during his senior year at Texas A&M but might be his again for the season finale. He'll start against Philadelphia next week if Kitna is unable to play.

"It's just playing ball," McGee said. "Practice is basically all it was. It took a little bit just to get comfortable, get the feel of it, get the cadence, get the guys moving, get the plays in and out quickly, little things like that go through my mind. Other than that, it felt like I was out there playing ball again."

Garrett was careful with McGee. Despite a 21-10 deficit, the Cowboys relied on the legs of Felix Jones, Marion Barber and Tashard Choice rather than McGee's arm. They ran for 78 yards in the third quarter, which was more than they had in four games earlier this season.

Eventually, however, any bus-driving quarterback has to make plays.

Facing a 24-20 hole with 3:45 to play, the Cowboys needed McGee to make a play. Several, in fact.

McGee's first pass of the drive to Austin skidded along the turf. He ran for 11 yards on second down. Five plays later, the Cardinals helped keep the drive alive with a pass-interference penalty on fourth down.

As McGee approached the line of scrimmage on first down from the Cardinals' 37, he knew where he was going with the ball. He hoped Austin saw it, too, but almost all their work before Saturday had come in pregame warm-ups during the season.

Austin was in the slot, covered by Michael Adams. Safety Rashad Johnson was in the middle of the field. Austin put a hard inside fake on Adams and sprinted down the field. McGee floated the pass down the seam.

"I was afraid the safety might get over the top of it," McGee said. "It was just single high. I knew I'd give him width, put some air on the ball and let him make a play. ... That was Miles Austin making a great play."

It was McGee making a play, too. One that helps his future, even if it came in a bitter defeat.

Todd Archer covers the Cowboys for ESPNDallas.com. You can follow him on Twitter or leave a question for his mailbag.