ARLINGTON -- Dallas Cowboys backup quarterback Stephen McGee seems to save his best for the last.
He did it again in the fourth quarter of Thursday's exhibition opener, going 7 of 9 for 128 yards, two touchdowns and a 2-point conversion in a 24-23 come-from-behind victory over the Broncos.
"You've got to give him his due," Cowboys owner Jerry Jones said. "He's had the opportunity in clutch situations... and he's taken advantage."
In the fourth quarter of the past four games he has played -- two preseason and two regular season -- McGee has completed 29 of 41 passes for 374 yards, four touchdowns and a 131.6 passer rating. His eight fourth-quarter drives have led to five touchdowns, one field goal, one punt and a missed field goal. The Cowboys are 3-1 in those games, and if not for a missed extra point and/or a defensive breakdown, Dallas would have won the game in Arizona last December, too.
"I just feel like that's a time when you have to step up and make the plays," McGee said. "The team is relying on you. The game's on the line. I think that's fun football right there. Not to downplay another situation -- they're all important -- but I just feel like those are fun. The game's on the line. You've got to step up."
This time a year ago, McGee's job status was in doubt. A fourth-round pick of the Cowboys' in 2009, McGee had looked as indecisive his second season as his rookie season.
During training camp, there were whispers inside the organization that Tony Romo and Jon Kitna might be the only quarterbacks on the Cowboys' 53-player roster. Then, McGee solidified his job against Miami in the preseason finale.
Now, after he played in two regular-season games last season, with one start, it's obvious the Cowboys are grooming McGee to take over as Romo's backup. Kitna is in the last year of his contract, and he turns 39 next month.
"Stephen is a guy we really like. We really like him," Cowboys coach Jason Garrett said. "One of the things we try to emphasize to all our players, particularly our quarterbacks, is to go play. He's very well prepared. Now, go play. Go play football just like it's [high school ball in] Burnet, Texas, a lot of years ago. He hears that from me a lot."
McGee no longer is the young guy. He is 25 and sometimes the oldest player in his huddle.
He has expressed some frustration with his inexperienced teammates' not knowing where to go or what to do sometimes. McGee's second-quarter interception can be laid at the feet of receivers Jesse Holley and Kevin Ogletree, who had poor timing on the play.
"I don't feel young for a couple of reasons," McGee said. "I've got the beard and the bald spot. But then No. 2, in my huddle, I'm old. Those guys are clueless, and I'm having to coach them up on every little detail. I know at the end of the day if they mess up, I'm the one taking the pounding in the huddle or on the sideline, but most importantly in the pocket. I'm making sure those receivers know what they do every chance. If they mess up, I'm on them. If the linemen aren't communicating right, I'm on them. That's my job, and if they get out in a preseason game and they mess up, I'm the one hurting at the end of the play."
McGee was feeling a little sore after the game against the Broncos. His neck hurt. His chest ached. But it was a good kind of sore.
"It's always a lot better when you win," McGee said.
Charean Williams, 817-390-7760