The Cowboys entered their contest against the Cardinals with one important edict: leave it whole and get back to Dallas. They did just that and on the way, collected their second loss of the preseason, 12-7.
Apparently players' attentions were already back in Dallas and were just waiting for their bodies to join them following the third preseason tilt. How a team is fortunate enough to escape a five-turnover half and only allow three field goals is beyond me, but somehow the mistake-prone Cowboys pulled it off in the desert.
On the heels of a punt return fumble, two catch-run-then fumbles and two head-thumping interceptions, the Cowboys gave the Cardinals offense eight first half possessions. Eight. The barely capitalized, however, and allowed the 9-0 score to betray the game action watched by all.
With no one scoring in the third quarter, the Cowboys wouldn't get on the board until the fourth quarter. Third-string quarterback Alex Tanney, who showed good pocket presence and accuracy, found Gavin Escobar out of 12 personnel for a red zone touchdown. It was a great game for Tanney who has moved past Nick Stephens. On the drive, he was 7 for 7 and brought him to 10 for 10 for 100 yards for the game at the time. Tanney would finish 14 of 19 for 136 yards, 1 TD, 1 INT.
He certainly fared better than backup Kyle Orton, who made two mind-numbing interceptions in the second quarter and ruined all of the "he's fine" kudos he received after last week's 6 for 6 performance. Orton has had a rough summer and may have returned himself to question mark status with passes into two defenders and with no zip.
The fourth quarter touchdown brought hope for an exciting ending to a boring second half. After allowing Arizona to promptly march down the field, the defense tightened again in the red zone. Veteran Jay Feely nailed his fourth field goal of the day. Tanney would get one more try with a little more than two minutes left. After a few completions, a delay of game on third down put Dallas in a rough spot. The next pass was intercepted and that was all she wrote.
Most of the Cowboys starters got their feet wet last weekend in Oakland, or the prior week in Canton versus the Dolphins. Today, they got their first taste of extended action. The game started with the Cowboys defense taking the field first, and often. Dallas forced a quick three and out behind two great Sean Lee plays, but a punt return fumble soon put Arizona in the Dallas red zone. The Cowboys defense held, however, only relinquishing three points. Later in the first quarter, after the Larry Fitzgerald show, Dallas found themselves defending the red zone again.
A big pass breakup by Orlando Scandrick and Will Allen prevented a touchdown, and then on third down Danny McCray forced a fumble after the runner had passed the marker, forcing fourth down. Carson Palmer attacked a groundhog on the next throw and the Cowboys offense took over to start the second quarter.
QB Tony Romo, who had overshot a wide open Terrance Williams on the last third down, immediately threw a beautiful back shoulder fade to Dez Bryant who was covered tightly by Patrick Peterson. Next play, Romo found Austin wide open crossing underneath the linebackers. Austin scooted upfield and then laid a lick on the safety, firing up the Cowboys sidelines. Two plays later Lance Dunbar showed why there is little question why Dallas is so high on him this year.
Catching a dump off, Dunbar simply outran the entire Cardinals defense down the hashmarks to the tune of a 43 yard gain. Unfortunately, when he was tripped up, he coughed it up inside the Cardinals five and Arizona recovered.
The Cowboys offensive starters returned after the backup defense forced a punt, and went back to work. Romo found Dez Bryant on a third down, then again on the next play for another new set of downs. "Uncheckable Dez" was targeted again, racing inside the Cardinals 30 before the fumble monster attacked him as well. This would be the Cowboys third turnover in 20 minutes of game action and effectively end the evening for most of the starters on both sides.
Romo finished the game 7 for 10, for 142 yards. Dez, save for his fumble, looked fantastic, catching four for 74, including a delicious back shoulder fade while being tightly checked by Patrick Peterson. Lance Dunbar looked quick as lightning, but his fumble when tripped up after a 43-yard gain will be a Jason Garrett talking point. Mixed in was the debut of WR Terrance Williams, who had missed the first two games of the preseason.
Playing without Ron Leary, who had returned to Dallas to have a scope done on his right knee meant that the offensive line went with their third configuration in three contests. Against Oakland's inept defensive line, the entire group shone like a star in the Texas sky, limiting the Raiders to three quarterback pressures for the entire game. Today against the Arizona Cardinals 3-4 front, the story was somewhat different. The first unit played into the second half today.
The quarterbacks weren't pressured much early, but the running lanes of the previous games weren't there. Mackenzy Bernadeau was consistently letting defenders into the backfield and made the pre-game news that the team and Brian Waters were cutting off talks even scarier. Pressure by his man forced Romo to rush and miss Williams wide open; and that might have been the least egregious of his errors. If the Cowboys are holding a competition for the right guard spot, one shouldn't be surprised to see David Arkin get next week's start.
On the opposite side of the ball, Dallas' first stringers looked to capitalize on the dynamic impression they left in Oakland. That didn't quite materialize as planned, but they did respond under pressure.
Sean Lee and Bruce Carter showed why so many are excited about the combination in Monte Kiffin's defense. They were all over the place in the first quarter. DeMarcus Ware looked ready to go as well, and fans can only imagine how much pressure he can get once Anthony Spencer returns to the lineup.
The Dallas defense didn't have the same fortune as the Cardinals. Three times they appeared to force a turnover, but only once would they end up with the ball. The Danny McCray forced fumble was first. Later in the half, sixth-round pick DeVonte Holloman came in at the quarterback unblocked from the left side. He appeared to knock the ball loose, but the play was reviewed (an annoying theme of the game) and determined that the QB's hand was moving forward. It ruined Kyle Wilber's comical pursuit of the loose ball, as he almost bumbled it all the way out of bounds to the sideline before finally corralling it.
Holloman would not be stopped, as he made a diving interception to thwart the next Cardinals drive. It's Holloman's second pick of the preseason and he's starting to build a reputation as a playmaker. He wasn't the only rookie of note, of course.
Escobar's touchdown came on five catches for the day. Travis Frederick, Dallas' first round pick, continued to look solid in his role at center. Terrance Williams hauled in his first pro catch, but didn't make much noise outside of the missed first quarter opportunity. BW Webb still appears to have a ways to go before getting on the field in the regular season. UDFA Brandon Magee made several plays, ending the game with a team-leading six tackles.
Now, team can finally board the plane and get themselves back to Dallas. There are now two preseason games remaining: the dress rehearsal against the Bengals next week, followed by the Governor's Cup contest against in-state little brothers, the Houston Texans.
Cowboys starters out today: G Ron Leary (knee), DE Anthony Spencer (knee), CB Morris Claiborne (knee), DT Jay Ratliff (hernia/hamstring). Dallas expects all to be available for Week 1 against the Giants (at this point in time). Other inactives: Cole Beasley (foot) Nate Livings (knee), Kevin Kowalski (knee), Ryan Cook (back), Matt Johnson (foot), JJ Wilcox (family), Ernie Sims (groin), Sean Lissemore (groin), Alex Albright (back), Eric Frampton (calf), and Ray Dominguez (shoulder).
More from Blogging The Boys:
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- Cowboys 2013 Training Camp: 8 Observations At The End of Camp
- Leadership And The Cowboys: The View From 2013
- Final Cowboys 2013 Training Camp Report: Eight Things We Learned Over The Last Weeks