Who says lightning can't strike twice?
KaVonte Turpin proved that theory wrong when he returned both a kickoff and a punt for touchdowns. Behind his energizing effort, the Dallas Cowboys powered their way past the host Los Angeles Chargers, 32-18. The win was the team's first in the preseason on the road since a 3-0 victory at Oakland on Aug. 12, 2012.
The former USFL MVP was signed by the Cowboys specifically for his impressive speed and special teams capabilities. And Turpin lived up to the billing, returning a kickoff 98 yards in the first quarter and then a punt 86 yards in the second to not only spur on the Cowboys but also earn himself the rest of the night off and likely a roster spot as well.
Of course, Turpin did have a little help, particularly from both the Cowboys running attack and the team's run defense. Dallas rushed for 115 yards as Rico Dowdle and Malik Davis led the effort with averages of 3.4 and 4.6 yards per carry, respectively. Conversely, on the other side of the ball, the defense allowed less than 3 yards per carry to the Chargers' running backs.
Overall, the Cowboys were outgained by Los Angeles, 242 to 296, although they ran 17 fewer plays, thanks to Turpin's fireworks. In addition, the defense as a whole had two takeaways and three sacks.
In the battle to determine who would be the backup quarterback, Cooper Rush got the start and orchestrated the team's first two series. But his night was done after completing 3 of 6 attempts for 32 yards and a passer rating of 66.0.
That's when Will Grier came in for his first action of the preseason after sitting out last week with a sore groin. He would get five possessions to work with the offense, coming out early in the fourth quarter after totaling 98 yards on 6 of 10 passing for a 92.9 rating. Ben DiNucci wrapped things up with the game well in hand, completing both of his pass attempts for 4 yards.
Safety Israel Mukuamu made his presence known on the Chargers' opening drive with a couple of nice plays against the run before picking off quarterback Easton Stick at the Cowboys' 37-yard line. Dallas couldn't do much with the gift, though, and Stick came right back on Los Angeles' next possession with a 41-yard pass to wideout Joshua Palmer. Thankfully, the Cowboys kept the home team out of the end zone, forcing them to settle for a 22-yard field goal.
And then Turpin took center stage. Added to the roster with hopes of bringing a little juice to the special teams, he did just that, taking the ensuing kickoff at his own 2-yard line, exploding up the middle, cutting to his right and turning on the afterburners to outrace one and all to the end zone for the 98-yard kickoff return and a 7-3 Cowboys lead.
The Chargers were on the move again with Stick avoiding the rush and scampering 25 yards on the final play of the first frame to set his side up at the Cowboys' 18-yard line as the second quarter got underway. Two plays later, Los Angeles was in the end zone as a screen to Palmer on the left side saw the receiver sprint through the Dallas defense and dive across the goal line to put the Chargers back on top.
Dallas came right back, however, and did it the old fashioned way – on the ground. On the 12-play, 69-yard drive, the Cowboys ran the ball nine times. Yes, Rush connected with rookie wideout Jalen Tolbert for a 19-yard completion, but Dowdle did the dirty work, carrying the ball seven times for 34 yards, the last of which was a 1-yard plunge into the end zone. Dallas then went for two and Rush threw a quick out to rookie tight end Jake Ferguson to go up 15-13.
But the Cowboys were far from done in the first half – or rather Turpin wasn't. With 1:12 on the clock, this time the speedster corralled a punt, sidestepped the initial tackler, started to the left, found a seam to the right and again hit the jets all the way to the end zone for an 86-yard touchdown return.
And then the Dallas defense stepped up when defensive tackle Trysten Hill stripped the ball from Stick and fell on the fumble himself to give the Cowboys the ball at the Chargers' 15-yard line with 46 seconds remaining in the quarter. This time rookie running back Malik Davis got the honors with final runs of 8 and 1 yard to give the visitors another score and a 29-10 advantage at the break.
With those further down the roster and fighting for their NFL lives taking over, the frantic scoring of the first half, not surprisingly, slowed. The Chargers managed to march 59 yards in 13 plays late in the quarter, but on fourth-and-3 at the Dallas 26-yard line, Los Angeles went for it, only to have the Cowboys defense slam the door shut when cornerback Quandre Mosely broke up a would-be first-down pass.
Just as the first quarter ended with a quarterback scramble, so too did the third quarter, albeit this time in the Cowboys' favor as Grier broke loose for a 9-yard gain on fourth-and-1. That eventually led to a 35-yard field goal attempt, Lirim Hajrullahu splitting the uprights to increase the score to 32-10.
With that, Grier's night was done, DiNucci taking over. He got close enough, relatively speaking, for the Cowboys to let Brett Maher try a 61-yard field goal, but the kicker's big-leg effort came up just short.
Perhaps the most exciting play of the fourth resulted in no gain. In an effort reminiscent of Tony Romo, DiNucci somehow spun away from a pass rusher, lost his grip on the ball, picked up the fumble on a hop and then completed a short pass to tight end Peyton Hendershot.
The Chargers managed to add one more score late in the game, also converting the two-point conversion, but it was too little, too late. Unfazed, the Cowboys were content to take the win and head back home to Dallas, their time in California officially done.