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GAME RECAP: Cowboys Defeat Texans, 21-14

For those who find themselves concerned with such things, the Cowboys won their exhibition finale, 21-14, over their downstate rivals from Houston, the victory snapping their preseason losing streak at eight games.

Still, regardless of the fact that the sparse crowd went home happy, this game was less about the final score and more about rounding out the final few spots on the roster.

In reality, there were only a handful of players on the proverbial bubble, but they certainly got their chance to shine. All of the Cowboys' projected starters on both sides of the ball spent the evening resting comfortably on the sidelines, the most important objective of the night accomplished – the key pieces to a successful 2015 campaign remained healthy.

Only a few who put in regular time last season, such as Gavin Escobar, Mackenzy Bernadeau and Kyle Wilber, saw action tonight, as did 2015 first-round pick Byron Jones, although he spent most of the game playing safety and only a little at cornerback.

But again, this was about those players fighting for roster spots, and of that group, some gave the coaches food for thought (think defensive line), while others, well, not so much (offensive line).

Perhaps the biggest question marks coming into the game were 1) would the Cowboys keep a third quarterback this year? And 2) if so, would Dustin Vaughan or Jameill Showers earn the honor? Vaughan, who was with the team last year, played the entire game and completed 11-of-20 passes, but they went for only 115 yards and he finished the preseason with no touchdown throws.

And although he appeared on special teams throughout the game, that fact that Showers saw no time behind center led some to speculate that the Cowboys might be trying to hide him from other teams in order to sneak him onto the practice squad. We shall see.

Overall, Dallas finished with only 248 total yards of offensive, although they did put up 154 yards on the ground, a respectable 4.5 yards-per-carry average. Both Gus Johnson and Ben Malena put up a good fight, and could be vying for a spot, if not on the 53-man roster, than on the practice squad. Johnson finished with 68 rushing yards on 16 carries, while Malena collected 88 yards on 15 attempts.

As reflected in Vaughan's numbers, the passing game didn't do much, in part because the Cowboys' offensive line, and tackles Darrion Weems, Laurence Gibson and John Wetzel in particular, seemed to struggle early on, unable to give the quarterback a comfortable pocket. Weems, who is trying to nail down the swing-tackle job, was called for two penalties alone on the team's second possession of the game.

Of course, on the other side of the ball, Houston's offense couldn't do a whole lot against the Dallas defense, either. The Cowboys held them in check for most of the night, allowing only 204 yards of offense, and two touchdowns while also producing two turnovers, both of which came in the third quarter and eventually resulted in points.

The first was a gift-wrapped interception for Corey White, who has had a strong training camp and preseason, at the Texans' 3-yard line for an easy touchdown. The second saw rookie defensive end Ryan Russell strip Texans quarterback Tom Savage of the ball with linebacker Keith Smith falling on it at the Houston 21-yard line.

On the Cowboys' very next offensive snap, Johnson then scooted around the right end, danced along the sideline and reached the end zone to give Dallas the lead, 14-7.

But thanks to a muffed punt by Nick Harwell early in the fourth quarter, Houston was able to get on the board again, bringing fears of the dreaded exhibition tie and possible overtime.

Thankfully, after Lucky Whitehead returned a punt 33 yards to the Houston 48, the Cowboys took eight plays, using a nice mix of run and pass, before Malena powered in from the 5-yard line for the game's final points, Dallas earning the victory, 21-14.

With the preseason now behind them, the Cowboys have until Saturday at 3 p.m. to make their cuts for the final 53-man roster. They'll then open up the 2015 regular season by hosting the New York Giants on Sept. 13 in a Sunday night showdown.

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