Oh, sweet football, how good it is to see you again.
Sure, this might not have been the real thing, the Dallas Cowboys traveling out to San Francisco to take on the 49ers in the first of their four preseason games, but still, we can now safely say that football is indeed back.
And never mind that the Cowboys lost the final outcome, 24-21. Perhaps even better was the fact that, other than a hurt big toe for guard Marcus Martin and a groin injury to Marqueston Huff, there appeared to be no major injuries to the team.
Jason Garrett and his staff will take it.
In a somewhat surprising move, the Cowboys opened the game with nearly all of their projected starters in the lineup on offense, the lone absences being running back Ezekiel Elliott and wide receiver Cole Beasley. Aside from that pair, fans got a quick taste of what Dak Prescott just might be able to do behind that heralded offensive line.
The third-year quarterback went 3-for-3 on the opening series for 39 yards, with running back Rod Smith chipping in 29 yards on five carries, which included two first downs. The decisive blow came when Prescott dropped in a pretty 30-yard pass down the right sideline to rookie wide receiver Michael Gallup, who sprinted past veteran defensive back Jimmie Ward for his first touchdown at the professional level. That impressive 10-play, 75-yard drive gave the Cowboys an early 7-0 lead.
With that, of course, Prescott and most of the offensive line grabbed their ball caps and found a comfortable spot on the sidelines. Only rookie left guard Connor Williams stayed in to work with the second unit.
On the defensive side of the ball, Sean Lee was a spectator on the night and others like DeMarcus Lawrence saw only a series of action. But a secondary that’s still trying to find its legs spent most of the first half on the field and helped limit 49ers starting quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo to only 3-of-7 passing for 34 yards.
Not until early into the second quarter did San Francisco even threaten the Dallas defense. Second-string passer C.J. Beathard was able to connect with Aldrick Robinson down the right hash mark for a 33-yard gain to the Cowboys’ 15-yard line, but on the very next snap, Kavon Frazier came around the right end on a safety blitz and batted Beathard’s next offering up in the air. The ball hung up long enough for linebacker Joe Thomas to swoop in for the interception.
While Dallas was unable to capitalize on the turnover, Cooper Rush and company finally found the end zone again later in the second quarter. Similar to the defensive backs, the Cowboys’ wide receivers expected to make the roster largely played throughout the first half as the coaching staff still tries to determine what it has at the position. On the team’s fifth possession, it was newcomer Tavon Austin stepping to the forefront.
He hauled in passes of 12 yards and 13 yards to kickstart the Cowboys into 49ers territory. The rookie running back Bo Scarbrough then took control, running off right tackle for 28 yards to the San Francisco 20-yard line. After tight end Blake Jarwin carried a pass down the left sideline to the 1-yard line, Scarbrough capped off the drive with a bulldoze across the goal line, Dallas taking what seemed to be a comfortable 14-0 advantage.
Unfortunately, things got a little less comfortable before the half was done as the 49ers managed to storm back for their first touchdown of the night, scoring with only 10 seconds remaining in the second quarter. The Cowboys had a chance to escape without much damage, but on third-and-3 at the Dallas 28-yard line, cornerback Anthony Brown was called for pass interference, setting up San Francisco with a first-and-goal. That led to a Joe Williams run up the middle for the seven points.
Although those on the bottom of the roster would take over for in the second half, that didn’t make the game any less exciting. San Francisco came right out of the break and put up a 26-yard field goal to narrow the score to 14-10. That came after a 53-yard bomb from Beathard to wide receiver Dante Pettis that saw Cowboys cornerback Jourdan Lewis and the safety Huff get turned around, the Dallas secondary seemingly struggling more as the game went along.
But with Rush returning behind center to start the third quarter, he marched his team right back down the field, answering with the Cowboys’ third touchdown of the night. Spreading the ball around, Rush found rookie wideout Marchie Murdock for 31 yards, hit tight end Dalton Schultz for 6, and then connected with Mekale McKay for 13 more. After later dumping off to Scarbrough for 11 yards, the quarterback finished up the drive with a 2-yard completion to Lance Lenoir in the back right corner of the end zone, the Cowboys increasing their lead to 21-10.
The strong finish put a bow on Rush’s night, who served notice he’s not ready to give up the backup quarterbacking duties. He completed 65.2 percent of his attempts for 145 yards and a 97.2 passer rating.
That left the fourth quarter to fifth round draft pick Mike White and his NFL debut. He was able to get his team into field goal range, Brett Maher missing from 52 yards, but couldn’t put any more points on the board, which opened the door for the home side.
San Francisco managed to go on an eight-play, 58-yard drive to reach the end zone midway through the fourth quarter, but the Dallas defense stuffed the 49ers two-point conversion attempt to keep the score 21-16. San Francisco, however, would receive one more chance, getting the ball back again with exactly two minutes left.
They took advantage. Despite having no timeouts left, the 49ers quickly worked their way down the field, picking apart the young Cowboys secondary. Reaching the end zone with only 18 seconds left, San Francisco secured the 24-21 victory following a successful two-point conversion.
With the loss, the Cowboys fell to 0-1 on the preseason. They will return to Oxnard for one more week of training camp in California before returning home for their second exhibition matchup, hosting the Cincinnati Bengals at 6 p.m. on Saturday night, Aug. 18.