It's every team's worst nightmare in the preseason – injuries. Unfortunately, in losing late to the host Arizona Cardinals, 19-16, in their second game of the exhibition schedule, the Dallas Cowboys also suffered several losses to the trainer's room.
Most notably, projected starting defensive tackle Neville Gallimore left at the 7:27 mark of the first quarter, appearing in significant pain with an injury to his left elbow. He was followed by tight end Sean McKeon heading to the locker room midway through the second frame with a right ankle injury.
After potential swing tackle Ty Nsekhe, who had trouble with his knee in practice two days before, was ruled out in the second quarter, rookie linebacker Anthony Hines was carted to the locker room having suffered his own injured elbow on the opening kickoff of the second half. Malik Turner then came up with a gimpy left foot and headed to the tunnel early in the third quarter.
Enough is enough.
Among those who did manage to stay on the field, the backup quarterback battle again took center stage. None of the candidates, however, was convincing in his performance.
Garrett Gilbert started the game and worked the team's first four possessions, completing 7 of 16 passes for 80 yards and a 59.4 passer rating. Cooper Rush was up next and got four series at the helm himself. His night ended after he completed 7 of 13 attempts for 89 yards and a 75.5 passer rating. Gilbert's offense led to one field goal while Rush's effort managed two.
The rest of the game was left for Ben DiNucci, who again struggled but at least led the Cowboys to a touchdown. The second-year passer connected on just 6 of 14 attempts for 46 yards and a 75.3 rating.
On the other side of the ball, an ever-encouraging defense was led by Dorance Armstrong, the fourth-year defensive end totaling five tackles and two sacks with a pass batted down and a near interception at the line of scrimmage in just a first half of play.
But it was the rookie class who really shined on defense. Micah Parsons continued to impress as he finished with four tackles in a short night of work, while fellow freshman Israel Mukuamu equaled his takedown total.
Rookie linebacker Jabril Cox led all defensemen with a game-high seven tackles and cornerback Nahshon Wright again had another strong performance. Defensive tackle Osa Odighizuwa and safety Tyler Coyle each posting a tackle for loss as well.
The Dallas D came out strong on the Cardinals' first series. Parsons and linebacker Keanu Neal stood up Arizona tight end Maxx Williams, which then allowed Neal a chance to strip the ball and fall on it for fumble recovery.
But despite getting possession at the Arizona 49-yard line, Gilbert and the offense couldn't take advantage. They were hurt in part by a couple of bad snaps from Connor Williams, who is trying to prove he can be the backup center. The second of those miscues came on a fourth-and-3 at the Arizona 20-yard line, which ended the Dallas scoring threat.
On the other hand, the Cardinals did move the chains on their ensuing series and marched down the field to the Cowboys' 9-yard line. There they had to settle for a 33-yard field goal after Armstrong sacked Colt McCoy for a 6-yard loss on third down.
Gilbert finally found his form as the second quarter got going, dropping in a beauty of a pass to Cedrick Wilson down the right sideline for a nice 34-yard completion to the Arizona 23. That led to a 36-yard field from Hunter Niswander to tie the game.
By the time halftime came around, though, Dallas was again trailing on the scoreboard. Running back Rico Dowdle had the ball punched out at his own 32-yard line, the Cardinals falling on it at the Cowboys' 38.
Four plays later, Arizona was in the end zone, running back Eno Benjamin dashing untouched off left tackle to give the home side the lead.
Dallas did manage to pick up another three points to narrow the deficit to 10-6 at the break. With Rush in at quarterback, the offense drove 55 yards on 11 plays to set Niswander up for a 38-yard field goal.
Helped by a Cowboys penalty that negated a third-down sack, Arizona opened the second half with a lengthy drive that resulted in a 28-yard field goal. Benjamin led the charge, getting the handoff three times for 43 yards, the Wylie, Texas, native's night ending with a 10.0 yards per carry average.
Dallas responded with a field goal of its own, a 32-yard completion from Rush to Reggie Davis highlighting a 10-play, 57-yard drive. That allowed the busy Niswander to split the uprights from 36 yards away, the punter-by-trade finishing perfect on the night in his field goal attempts.
Finally, the Cowboys crossed the goal line, their first touchdown scored in the 2001 preseason. With DiNucci now behind center, Dallas went on a lengthy 14-play, 80-yard drive as the clock ticked over into the final frame. The quarterback completed 5 of 8 passes during the series, capping things off with a 1-yard strike to rookie receiver Brandon Smith in the back of the end zone.
Although the score gave Dallas the lead, it was an advantage they couldn't hold onto. With a pair of field goals, the Cardinals were able to come back and tie the game with just under two minutes left in the fourth quarter, and then won it as time expired.
The first came on a 48-yarder by Arizona kicker Matt Prater, who then provided the heroics for the home fans with a 47-yard field goal as the clock hit zeroes.