Lights, camera, action. It's the dress rehearsal, right?
With nearly a full cast of starters playing their parts, the Dallas Cowboys took on their downstate rivals from Houston but eventually fell in the end, losing to the Texans, 20-14. Quarterback Dak Prescott and running Ezekiel Elliott again got the night off, but the rest of the first-string offense was on the field from the get-go.
Taking center stage, however, was quarterback Cooper Rush. In the battle for the backup quarterback job, Garrett Gilbert got the starting duties, but after just two unproductive series, he left having completed 3-of-5 passes for 30 yards and 77.1 passer rating with one fumble.
That's when Rush was given the opportunity to see what he could do with the starting offensive unit, and he responded with his best showing of the preseason, immediately leading Dallas to its first score of the night. The quarterback finished out the first half with a 139.9 passer rating after completing an impressive 10-of-12 attempts for 97 yards and two touchdowns.
Ben DiNucci took over behind center for the final two quarters and struggled. He managed to complete 14 of 19 passes for 120 yards, but also tossed three interceptions.
On the other side of the ball, DeMarcus Lawrence was really the only healthy headliner to sit out., although perhaps the biggest news of the night came early in the first quarter when it was announced that defensive coordinator Dan Quinn and defensive tackle Carlos Watkins left the stadium out of an abundance of caution under the guidelines of the NFL's Covid related protocols.
Regardless, the defense played hard and fast, limiting the visitors to just 220 yards of offense, 17 of their 20 points coming after Cowboys turnovers. The Texans also failed to convert a single third down on 10 tries against the Dallas D. Micah Parsons again looked every bit the first-round pick while Leighton Vander Esch was solid at linebacker as well, tying for a game-high four tackles despite his limited work.
The game certainly didn't got off to the kind of start the offense wanted, as Gilbert had the ball stripped on the unit's second snap of the night. Defensive end Charles Omenihu fell on the prize for Houston, giving the visitors possession at the Dallas 23-yard line.
It took the Texans seven plays, but they eventually muscled their way into the end zone. Running back Mark Ingram rushed four times for 16 yards, the last of which was a 2-yard plunge for the touchdown and an early lead.
With Rush coming in for the Cowboys' third series, the offense responded and went on a five-play, 75-yard drive that was highlighted by a perfectly-placed pass to tight end Blake Jarwin down the seam for a 25-yard gain. Two snaps later, Tony Pollard grabbed a screen pass in the right flat and turned up field for an 8-yard touchdown and a tie score.
With the defense stifling the Houston offense, which included stuffing the Texans for a 1-yard loss on fourth-and-1 at the Dallas 36-yard line, the offense got rolling again midway through the second quarter. Taking over at their own 15-yard line with just under 8 minutes left in the half, the Cowboys marched 85 yards in 13 plays to pay dirt.
Running back Rico Dowdle had runs of 10 and 15 yards while Rush was 5-for-6 for 48 yards. He connected with Noah Brown on 19- and 11-yard passes before wrapping up the series by dropping a perfect pass into Cedrick Wilson's arms in the back right corner of the end zone for the touchdown and a 14-7 advantage at the break.
The second half was left to those battling for positions further down the depth chart, although fans witnessed the debut of Malik Hooker in a Cowboys uniform. The veteran safety, who is coming off an Achilles' injury that ended is 2020 campaign early, was signed to the roster at the end of July. He finished with a pair of hard-hitting tackles.
Unfortunately, Hooker couldn't help the Cowboys offense. On the Cowboys' second possession of the third quarter, a DiNucci pass attempt to Reggie Davis was instead picked off by Houston's Lonnie Johnson. The safety then raced untouched down the right sideline 53 yards for the score, tying the game.
With the Dallas offense struggling to get much going, Houston pulled away in the final frame. The Cowboys were able to cross midfield to the Texans' 41-yard line early on, but elected to punt on fourth-and-8.
Taking over at its own 10-yard line, the Houston offense then worked its way down the field 70 yards to the Dallas 20. There the Dallas defense held, but the Texans were good on a 38-yard field goal to go up by three.
That was followed by DiNucci's second interception of the night, as Shyheim Carter dove in front of a quick out to give the Texans the ball at the 50-yard line. That resulted in another field goal, this one from 24 yards.
The Cowboys had one more shot at it, down six with 2:10 left to play. But DiNucci's third interception of the game ended any hopes of a comeback.