Bring on the real thing!
In losing to the visiting Jacksonville Jaguars, 34-14, the Dallas Cowboys finished winless in the preseason. While obviously many of the team's starters did not play during the exhibition schedule – Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliott chief among them – this still marked only the sixth time in franchise history that the Cowboys failed to win a preseason contest. In three of those previous occurrences, though, Dallas did eventually go on to make the playoffs, including in 2014 and 2018.
Once again, the spotlight shown brightest on the battle for backup quarterback. Cooper Rush got his first start of the preseason after an impressive performance the week before. But likely to his dismay, he was surrounded by expected Cowboys backups while facing Jacksonville's starters, which led to him completing just 4-of-8 attempts for only 16 yards with a 56.2 passer rating.
Conversely, Garrett Gilbert bounced back from a rough outing against Houston and led the Cowboys to their first score. In his four series of work, he totaled 87 passing yards, good on 9-of-16 attempts for a 92.4 rating.
Out of the running for the backup quarterback job, Ben DiNucci was still trying to impress in hopes of continuing his development. He did get Dallas in the end zone as well, as he was good on 8-of-16 tries for 93 yards and an 88.8 passer rating.
Of course, there was also intrigue at quarterback on the Jaguars' side with No. 1 overall draft pick Trevor Lawrence seeing action on his teams' first three possessions. And he certainly looked the part on the stat sheet, completing 11-of-12 attempts, 139 yards, two touchdowns and an impressive 154.5 passer rating.
Defensively, rookie safety Israel Mukuamu flashed despite one costly penalty, finishing with six tackles, an interception and a quarterback hit for Dallas. Fellow rookie, linebacker Jabril Cox, continued his impressive play in the preseason with nine tackles, while linebacker Luke Gifford topped the squad with 11 takedowns.
One troublesome injury did occur when rookie cornerback Kelvin Joseph, the Cowboys' second-round pick in this year's draft, had to leave the game in the first quarter with a left groin injury.
With the Cowboys backups playing against largely starters for Jacksonville in the first few series, Dallas couldn't get much going early on. The team managed only 35 offensive yards in the first quarter, forced to punt on each of its initial three possessions.
Meanwhile, Lawrence gave a glimpse of why he was the top pick in the 2021 draft. Although facing Cowboys second and third-stringers, he guided his side to 121 total yards in the first frame and a touchdown. On Jacksonville's opening possession, he went 3-for-3 for 62 yards, the last of which was an 18-yard strike to wideout Pharoh Cooper alone in the end zone.
The Jaguars were on the move again as the clock ticked over into the second quarter, this time marching 67 yards in six plays. Lawrence and receiver Laviska Shenault did most of the damage, the two connecting on three passes for a combined 36 yards, teaming up on a 4-yard completion for the score.
With that, the game was truly left to those on both sides fighting for roster spots. Gilbert took his place behind center, and responded by leading the Cowboys to pay dirt with a lengthy 80-yard drive on 10 plays. An 18-yard toss to wide receiver Aaron Parker on the right sideline brought the points and pulled Dallas to within seven.
But by halftime the disadvantage was back to 10, as the Jaguars responded with a drive down to the Dallas 27-yard line. There the Cowboys defense held, limiting Jacksonville to a 45-yard field goal and a 17-7 lead at the break.
Dallas did have an opportunity to add to its total after Mukuamu hauled in an errant C.J. Beathard pass to give the Cowboys the ball at their own 34-yard line with 1:00 left on the clock. And Greg Zuerlein, in his first outing of the preseason after offseason back surgery, did have the opportunity for a 56-yard field goal as time expired. But although long enough, the kick just missed wide left.
The last two quarters were, well, the second half of a fourth preseason game. DiNucci got the call at quarterback for the remainder of the day, but the Cowboys couldn't get their offense on track.
Meanwhile, Jacksonville was able to get its side rolling again. Eating up 7:33 of clock, the visitors went 82 yards in 12 plays, helped along by a facemask by Mukuamu on third-and-30 that resulted in an automatic first down. An 11-yard pass from quarterback Jake Luton to wideout Laquon Treadwell brought the touchdown and a commanding lead as the Cowboys took possession heading into the final quarter.
Jacksonville ran away with it over the final 15 minutes, turning the game into a blowout with a 34-yard field goal and another touchdown. The score came on an 8-play, 63-yard drive that saw Jaguars running back Devine Ozigbo carry the ball seven times for 54 yards, which included a dive across the goal line for the final 4 yards.
On the other hand, Dallas didn't muster much of an offensive threat until its final possession of the game. That's when DiNucci led his troops 75 yards in just 1:19 for the score. He at least finished a difficult preseason with a highlight pass to Johnnie Dixon in the back left corner of the end zone, the receiver leaping high to make the grab for the day's final points.