The "scout" game it's often called, this the final matchup of the preseason. It's essentially one last job interview for those fighting to stay in the NFL. Evaluators from not only the Dallas Cowboys but teams throughout the league are looking for that one diamond in the rough.
What that also means is the play might not be as sharp as what will be seen when the regular season officially gets underway. Still, that didn't make the night any less exciting for at least those on the field, despite the Cowboys falling to the Houston Texans, 14-6.
Several final spots on the roster were up for grabs with among the most prominent of those being who would be the backup quarterback for the Cowboys. Cooper Rush was given the opening audition, playing in the first half, with Mike White taking over for the final two quarters. Neither was particularly impressive.
On the Cowboys' opening possession, Rush was able to get his team into field goal range, although most of that yardage came thanks to a 30-yard pass interference penalty on the Texans. However, that got Dallas close enough for Brett Maher.
Dan Bailey's position with the team certainly seems safe, but Maher may have raised eyebrows around the league when he split the uprights on an impressive 57-yard field goal, which gave Dallas an early 3-0 lead.
The advantage was short-lived, however, as three plays into the team's next series, Rush scrambled to his right and then lofted an ill-advised pass to tight end Blake Jarwin. Instead, Houston safety Justin Reid easily hauled in the ball for the interception, giving the Texans field position at the Cowboys' 44-yard line.
From there, the home team needed only five snaps to reach the end zone. Running back Alfred Blue got the honors, plunging off right guard from 4 yards out to put Houston on top, 7-3.
Unfortunately, Rush and the Cowboys offense could never really find traction. Not that the quarterback had a whole lot of help. The offensive line had trouble creating space as the team managed only 18 rushing yards through the first two quarters. And Darius Jackson and Bo Scarbrough, who are competing for the third running back spot, both dropped passes on third down.
Overall, Dallas totaled 101 yards and were 3-for-9 on third downs with Rush guiding the offense. The quarterback completed 14 of his 25 attempts for 83 passing yards, and had two interceptions, although the second one came on a Hail Mary on the final play of the second quarter. But it left him with a paltry 29.3 passer rating for the game.
His night over, on came White for the second half and he immediately connected on his first four pass attempts, moving the Cowboys from their own 31-yard line down to the Houston 21. But on fourth-and-1, Dallas elected to go for it instead of kicking the field goal, only to see running back Jordan Chunn stuffed for a 1-yard loss.
The Cowboys then did not cross over into enemy territory again until late in the fourth quarter, reaching the Texans' 23-yard line. This time, they elected to kick the field goal and Maher was true once more, good from 41 yards.
White also couldn't quite keep up the pace, although he bettered his counterpart Rush. He finished with 118 yards on 13-of-21 passing with no interceptions and a 77.1 passer rating. As a team, the offense picked up 152 yards under White, but were 2-for-7 on third downs with only 34 more yards gained on the ground.
The one man given every opportunity to showcase his skills in this finale was Lance Lenoir. The wide receiver had largely had an outstanding training camp and preseason, but is considered on the bubble of making the team. Against the Texans, the Cowboys went to him early and often, and he finished the night catching nine of the 10 passes thrown his way for a game-high 69 yards. He also had an electrifying 22-yard punt return in the third quarter. In other words, there's not much else he could do.
Likewise for some on the defense. As much as the Cowboys offense struggled on the night, those on the other side of the ball played well for the most part, limiting Houston to 285 yards of offense and just a 27 percent conversion rate on third down (4-of-15).
Among the standouts were safety Jeron Johnson, who led the team with nine tackles, and Donovan Olumba, who fighting for the final cornerback spot had three tackles and a pass defensed. In addition, defensive tackle Jihad Ward racked up a sack, a quarterback hurry and two tackles for loss. Each made a case for a spot on an NFL roster somewhere, if not with the Cowboys.
Fourth-round pick Dorance Armstrong also brought some excitement, totaling four tackles, a sack, a quarterback hurry and two tackles for loss. He, though, had a position on the team secured before the night even began.
Despite the good individual performances, Dallas did allow another touchdown in the second half, this time Houston driving 77 yards in seven plays. The series was capped when running back Terry Swanson broke loose for a 37-yard run to the end zone.
With the loss, the Cowboys wrapped up their preseason schedule with a 0-4 record. Not that it matters. The last time Dallas went winless in their exhibition slate came in 2014 when they went on to post a 12-4 record in the regular season.
The Cowboys will next turn their attention to cutting their roster from 90 players down to 53, the deadline to do so coming at 3 p.m. on Saturday. They will then get set to open the regular season at the Carolina Panthers at 3:25 p.m. on Sept. 9.