ARLINGTON, Texas – If this had been the regular season, it would have been quite the dramatic finish.
Strictly speaking, the Cowboys fell to Tampa Bay, 17-15, on Thursday night after a last-gasp two-point conversion fell incomplete.
Keeping this game in its true context, though, it doesn’t quite live up to that billing. After all, it was fourth-string quarterback Taryn Christion who found Jalen Guyton for a 69-yard touchdown that might have tied the game up.
Dak Prescott, Amari Cooper and the rest of the Cowboys’ starters watched from the sideline.
That’s the theme of the fourth preseason game, as the rookies and youngsters of the NFL swap places with the stars and starters in their bid to earn a precious roster spot.
Give Christion, Guyton and plenty of others credit – they certainly left it all on the field.
The night started with a bang, as Donovan Olumba found himself in the end zone after a pick-six on just the ninth play of the game. Jameill Showers tipped a Ryan Griffin pass that was intended for Bobo Wilson, and the ricochet fluttered into Olumba’s arms for the 26-yard return.
From there, it stalled into a bit of a stop-and-go affair – and that’s perfectly fine. The fourth preseason game is all about evaluation, and plenty of young players put their best foot forward against the Buccaneers.
Of those, none might stand out more than defensive tackle Daniel Wise. The rookie out of Kansas tallied five on the night, but his true highlights came when he sacked Griffin twice within five minutes of game time.
The Cowboys’ young receivers also made a good accounting of themselves. Jon’Vea Johnson had struggled with drops through most of the preseason, but he finished his night with three catches for 32 yards. Devin Smith, who is making a push for one of the team’s final roster spots, caught two balls for 31 yards.
Apparently it wouldn’t be a preseason game if Donovan Wilson didn’t nab an interception. The rookie safety made a great read on a pass from Vincent Testaverde – yes, Vinny’s son – and covered 10 yards to pick it off. It was Wilson’s third interception this preseason.
Wilson’s night was cut short when he exited the game with an ankle injury, which puts a damper on an otherwise fantastic preseason. It’s likely Wilson has earned his way onto the 53-man roster, so his injury status will be something to watch heading into the weekend.
Meanwhile, the second half saw Tampa Bay take control. Testaverde led the Buccaneers on an eight-play, 39-yard field goal drive to open the third quarter, and he followed that up with an eight-play, 61-yard touchdown drive a few moments later.
Tampa’s 17-9 lead would hold up – but only barely, thanks to Christon and Guyton.
Taryn Christion took over for Mike White late in the third quarter and guided the Cowboys on a couple promising possessions, but his red zone fumble led to a touchback and quashed what might have been a Cowboys scoring drive.
It was Christion’s most extensive work at quarterback, finishing the night 9-of-11 with 116 yards and the touchdown.
Give Guyton plenty of credit for that score, too. Christion found Guyton on a comeback route on 3rd-and-5 with 2:40 to play, and the Allen, Texas, native broke two tackles before racing the final 60 yards to the end zone.
Cowboys coach Jason Garrett elected to go for the two-point conversion and the tie, but the out route intended for Cedrick Wilson flew harmlessly out of the end zone.
With the game now out of the way, all eyes turn toward the Cowboys’ roster cuts. The coaching staff will likely begin the process of trimming the roster on Friday afternoon, and the deadline to reach the 53-man limit is Saturday at 3 p.m.
Truthfully, the final roster felt mostly set heading into Thursday night, but there will be a few interesting decisions to make. What will the Cowboys do about the running back position, while Ezekiel Elliott is still absent from the team? Will the duo of Devin Smith and Cedrick Wilson find their way into the receiver group, or will the coaching staff choose one over the other?
Defensively, the depth along the defensive line creates a challenge. Wise had a standout game against Tampa Bay, but will that be enough to win a roster spot over the likes of Daniel Ross or Taco Charlton? The same can be said for the secondary, as the coaches will have to choose which youngsters they like best at the back of the depth chart.
However it all shakes out, it won’t be a long wait now that the preseason is over. That might be the best news of all.