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Ellis: Scores Don't Matter In Preseason, But Progress Does

OXNARD, Calif. –I think the one thing I liked best about Monday night is that Jason Garrett didn't try to sugarcoat the Cowboys' performance in his press conference after the game.

"I thought we played hard," Garrett said. "I don't think we played particularly well. There were way too many mistakes, certainly way too many penalties."

Never before has a shutout win left so much to be desired. Oh, the defense was great overall, but I frankly thought Oakland's was better. Remember, the Raiders got two field goal attempts to the Cowboys' one. The first-team offense, other than the 22-yard pass to Dez Bryant, had nothing. Tony Romo was endangered out there behind the patchwork interior and Doug Free at right tackle. The running game went nowhere.

And yet I am looking at the bright side after this epic game, not because there were glaring positives, but because of the demeanor of the head coach and the players afterward. Only a couple years ago, when these things were an issue, everyone was saying, 'Hey, these penalties aren't a problem, it's the preseason.' Or 'Hey, we're going to be a good running team because we were last year,' or 'We're going to be able to stop the run because we've always stopped the run.'

I'm not trying to throw Wade Phillips under the bus, because he's not the only coach who didn't worry about his team's performance in exhibition games. But that 2010 had a lot of problems before the disastrous start at Washington, signs that a 6-10 season was on the way, and the message from the head coach down seemed to be "move along folks, nothing to see here."

That wasn't the mood in the locker room after Monday's sissyfight. Garrett had already set the tone. It has to be better.

So let's not overreact to the sloppiness of one preseason game in which seven starters didn't even play. It's not the Cowboys need to go undefeated in the preseason or anything – wins and losses don't matter – you'd much rather everybody just stay healthy.

But at some point, at San Diego on Saturday, or against the Rams in next week's dress rehearsal, it's got to start looking prettier. Preseason Game 3 has to be sharper than Preseason Game 1. That'll happen naturally, because the Cowboys will be game-planning a little more. Of course, the Chargers and Rams will be game-planning a little more, too.

Even still, another dud or two shouldn't totally change what we think of this team. Unless, that is, players and coaches start trying to assure us that everything's going to be OK.

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