The 2013 Hall of Fame Game, the Cowboys' first action of the preseason, had all the characteristics of a final game in a typical exhibition schedule.
But hey, football is back and a win is a win. In a perfect wrap up to a weekend that saw Cowboys great Larry Allen and former head coach Bill Parcells take their places in Canton, Dallas came out on top against the Miami Dolphins, winning 24-20.
The Cowboys were content to keep the first stringers healthy with the likes of Tony Romo, Jason Witten and DeMarcus Ware never stepping foot on the field. That put the game in the hands of the backup players and those needing to impress the coaches to even earn a spot on the team.
"This is a great atmosphere out here and the young guys are getting a great chance to come out here and play," said linebacker Sean Lee, one of those who kept on his ball cap. "It's a long season for us and we will have plenty of preseason games ahead for us to get better. I think our camp has gone really well so far, but we have to continue to work hard and improve and we will in the next preseason game."
Unfortunately, the Cowboys didn't escape completely unscathed. An already depleted defensive line took another blow when defensive tackle Ben Bass left the game with left leg injury. And, Matt Johnson, who missed all of last season because of a hamstring issue, was struck again, having to head back to the locker room to have an x-ray on his ankle. The exam revealed nothing serious and he should be ready to go.
As could be expected – and as we'll likely see in that final preseason contest against the Texans – the play wasn't always crisp. The Cowboys were helped in large part by a pair of Dolphins turnovers in the first half.
In fact, Miami mishandled a handoff on their very first play, resulting in a fumble recovery at the Dolphins' 8-yard line by Cowboys defensive tackle Nick Hayden. Shortly thereafter, running back Phillip Tanner punched it in from 1-yard out to put Dallas ahead, 7-0.
The Cowboys were then handed another gift in the second quarter. Already holding a 10-0 advantage after a 49-yard field goal from Dan Bailey, rookie linebacker DeVonte Holloman, hauled in a tipped pass and rumbled 75 yards down the right sideline for the touchdown, the Cowboys pushing the lead to 17-0.
"Turnovers were the name of the game in the first half," said head coach Jason Garrett. "We took the ball away from them on their first offensive play and went down and had a real short drive inside the 10. The interception by Holloman for a touchdown was a big play in the game. "
Holloman wasn't the only member of the Cowboys' rookie class of 2013 to have a strong showing. First-round pick Travis Frederick was solid at center and even saw time in the second half at guard. Safety J.J. Wilcox and cornerback B.W. Webb had their freshman moments, but also showed potential, Wilcox in particular living up to his reputation as a big hitter, finishing with six tackles. Undrafted rookie linebacker Taylor Reed out of SMU led the team with nine tackles.
"I thought it was OK," Frederick said of his performance. "I definitely have a lot to work on from here on out."
And then there was Joseph Randle, who was part of an impressive effort by the Cowboys' running backs. Together, the offense rushed for 170 yards with Randle leading the way with 70 yards on 13 carries. Tanner also ran with an attitude, his 59 yards all coming in the first half. [embedded_ad]
Overall, Monte Kiffin's new 4-3 defense kept the Dolphins in check early in the game. They were tested just before the half, Miami looking at first-and-goal from the Cowboys' 3-yard line.
But a sack by defensive end George Selvie, one of his two on the night, pushed the Dolphins back to the Dallas 19, which resulted in Miami settling for an 18-yard field goal, the score 17-3 at the half. Selvie, who wasn't even with the team when training camp started, was one of the stars of the game, dominating in the trenches.
"I thought we ran it pretty well," said Garrett of his team's play through two quarters, "and the defense played pretty well situationally."
While the Cowboys D held firm in the first half, they did little to slow the Miami attack in the third and fourth quarters, and in the end the Dolphins topped Dallas in total yards, 421 to 266. Miami had four extended drives over the final 30 minutes, and twice reached the end zone, adding another field goal in the final frame.
And conversely, the Cowboys offense, with Alex Tanney behind center, offered little threat during most of the second half, unable to gain much yardage.
But both sides of the ball came up big when they needed to. Miami couldn't convert on a fourth-and-2 with 2:26 remaining, the Cowboys defense getting the stop. Tanney then guided his team to paydirt, hitting receiver Jared Green on a 32-yard pass to the 7-yard line before rookie Kendial Lawrence carried it across to give the Cowboys an insurmountable lead.
The Cowboys now head back out to Oxnard, Calif., to continue training camp and to prepare for the Raiders, their second preseason game – the first for the team's starters.