Although this game against the Raiders marked the Cowboys' second outing of the preseason, the matchup was actually the debut for most of the team's starters.
Not that they had much impact on the final outcome, a 19-17 loss to Oakland. That was left to the backups, and the backups to the backups, fighting to make an impression on Jason Garrett and the coaching staff.
The first stringers saw two series of action with both sides of the ball producing mixed results. Monte Kiffin's unit got off to a good start. Just as they did against Miami in the preseason opener, the Cowboys defense forced a fumble on the opponent's first possession. Jason Hatcher and Sean Lee collapsed on Raiders quarterback Matt Flynn, Hatcher getting both the strip and the recovery.
"It was great to have the first defense on the field," said Hatcher. "Unfortunately, we didn't get a whole lot of snaps, but there is a lot of stuff that we need to work on and clean up. I was impressed with the way we came out and the showing that we gave against the run game. We were able to strip the ball away from the quarterback and get a turnover early. We just have to continue to work as a defense."
That gave Dallas the ball at the Oakland 16-yard line, but just as the red zone offense struggled last season, they were unable to do much here. A holding penalty, incompletion and sack eventually forced the team to settle for a 38-yard field goal by Dan Bailey.
"We had a couple of penalties that put us in a hole that cost us some points, I think," said quarterback Tony Romo. "That is something that we are going to correct real fast. You just can't overcome that stuff in the red zone. Other than that, I thought the guys did a really good job and it's been going just how it was in training camp. It's been good."
The score was soon tied, however, after the Raiders marched down the field on the Dallas defense. Flynn took advantage of rookie cornerback B.W. Webb in coverage while safety Barry Church, who is returning from last year's season-ending Achilles' injury, didn't help things with a pair of missed tackles.
Fortunately, the defense finally held Oakland at the Cowboys' 33, Sebastian Janikowski booting a 51-yarder to even things up.
As frustrating as the offense looked on its opening possession, Romo and Co. found a groove on their second try … or rather Romo found receiver Dez Bryant. In what Cowboys fans hope will become a common occurrence this season, the combo connected three times for 55 yards on the drive.
"To be honest, man, I am so excited," said Bryant. "Not only me, but the rest of this team. When we came to the sideline and Coach told us we were done, me, Witten and Miles, we were just talking about how good we felt and couldn't wait to get back out there.
"It is a great feeling and I hate the fact that we only had a couple of drives because we are really ready to go and in good shape. The little momentum that we got tonight, we are going to try to take that over to the next practice and get better and take it on to the regular season."
But, their struggles in the red zone continued. After reaching the Oakland 17-yard line, Dallas failed to move the chains, again hurting themselves with an offensive penalty. Bringing out Bailey for a 25-yard field goal, his attempt was blocked, the team surviving a scare when Donte Rosario was knocked into Bailey on the return, rolling into the kicker's leg. Bailey was slow to get up but was none the worse for the wear.
And with that, the starters, aside from the offensive line, called it a night. The big boys up front, in part because so many of them are banged up, and because the coaches wanted to keep backup quarterback Kyle Orton upright, played through the end of the first half.
"I thought the starters on each of the units did a pretty good job with some positive things on defense, taking the ball away on the first drive and then making some stops down in the red zone were big for us," said Garrett. "They were able to move the football, so we have to keep looking at that and tighten down our execution. Offensively, I thought we did a pretty good job of moving the ball, but bogged down a little bit in the red zone until that last drive right before the half."
That drive came with Orton in relief of Romo, driving the team 80 yards to paydirt on his first possession. He found Cole Beasley, who later left the game after a Raider defender stepped on his left foot, on a seam route, the undersized receiver doing what he always seems to do, stretching out for the 15-yard pass and the score.
This touchdown came after J.J. Wilcox did his best to singlehandedly stop the Raiders on their previous drive. Oakland was able to move from its own 10-yard line down to the Dallas 4, but the rookie safety had six tackles during the series, and then with Raiders quarterback Terrelle Pryor scrambling to his right and throwing back to the middle of the end zone, Wilcox dove in front to come up with the interception. [embedded_ad]
From there, though, Oakland rattled off 13 unanswered points to take a 16-10 lead, as Dallas could do little in the third quarter. But as the clock ticked over to the fourth, the Cowboys got back on track, rookie running back Joseph Randle slashing through the Raiders defense with quarterback Nick Stephens completing three passes for 12 yards each as well as one for 15. Randle capped off the possession with a dive over the top to regain the advantage, 17-16.
Alas, it would be Oakland who would come out on top in the end. The rookie Webb, suffering a rough night all around, muffed a punt that led to the deciding 23-yard field goal that give the Raiders a 19-17 victory.
The Cowboys will now head back to Oxnard for their final week of training camp before starting the trek back to Texas with their next preseason game at Arizona on Aug. 17.