The Dallas Cowboys couldn't have asked for a better matchup in the traditional "dress rehearsal" game of the preseason. The Oakland Raiders have to be considered a contender this year thanks to a high-powered offense that features one of the best offensive lines in the league and a hot, young quarterback.
The Cowboys did eventually send the fans home happy with a 24-20 win, although the deciding points were earned long after the Dallas starters had called it a night. The first-stringers played the entire first half and the offense racked up 148 yards of total offense, but the defense also surrendered 188 yards as the Cowboys went into the break trailing 13-10.
This marked the preseason debut of two key players for the team this year: running back Ezekiel Elliott and linebacker Sean Lee. And both were impressive.
Elliott played just the first series of the game, but on the Cowboys' 12-play, 50-yard drive, he was on the field for 10 snaps and handled the ball eight times. He had six carries for 18 yards and hauled in two passes for six more yards. The end result of the possession was a 42-yard field goal by Dan Bailey to give Dallas an early 3-0 lead.
For his part, Lee was on the field for Oakland's first two drives, a total of 15 snaps in all, and came away with three tackles.
Overall, the Cowboys starting offense again looked impressive. After the Raiders reached the end zone, but failed on the extra point to go up 6-3, Dallas came right back and marched 80 yards in six plays to regain the advantage, 10-6.
Quarterback Dak Prescott, having hit on all four of his pass attempts on the first possession, was good on 3-of-4 this time around, which included a 10-yard strike to Jason Witten off a play-action pass for the touchdown. This came right after Darren McFadden had scampered off left tackle for an 18-yard run.
That's not to say things weren't completely perfect. There are two spots to fill along the Cowboys offensive line with La'el Collins working into the right tackle position and Chaz Green taking his turn as the starting left guard candidate. Both had their ups and downs.
Collins was hit with two hands-to-the-face penalties, the first of which negated what would have been a 41-yard completion to Terrance Williams. He also got tagged with a holding penalty, although that one was declined.
Meanwhile, Green was able to avoid the flags, but he did surrender a sack before leaving the game with an ankle injury. He's been on the field only sparingly in his first two seasons with the Cowboys, unable to stay healthy.
Just as these two teams mirror each other on offense, though, the same could be said on the defensive side of the ball. Both are good, neither appears great. Dallas allowed Oakland to move 81 yards on 10 plays for their first score, then gave up another touchdown when quarterback Derek Carr found wideout Amari Cooper deep down the left side for a perfectly thrown 48-yard score, which put the visitors back on top, 13-10, after two quarters.
Even worse for a Cowboys defense still with plenty of question marks, middle linebacker Anthony Hitchens went down with only seconds remaining in the half with what appeared to be a serious knee injury. Likewise, cornerback Duke Thomas, who was having a solid training camp and preseason, also left the game earlier with a knee issue.
Views of the Dallas Cowboys preseason game against the Oakland Raiders at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas.
The start of the second half meant the end of the night for the first-stringers, Prescott finishing with a 124.1 passer rating after completing 11-of-14 attempts for 131 yards. And that brought up the next big question: Who would come in as the team's second quarterback, the veteran Kellen Moore or rookie Cooper Rush?
This time it was Rush, and he again showed a knack for accuracy as he completed 12 of his 13 passes. He finished with 115 passing yards, although he had two more completions of at least 15 yards called back because of offensive penalties. He finished with a 143.1 passer rating for the night.
Rush got off to a rough start, though. After punting on their first two possessions of the third quarter, the Cowboys had reached the Oakland 31-yard line when the quarterback went back to pass and had his throwing elbow clipped by blitzing cornerback Antonio Hamilton. The fumble landed in the arms of Raiders safety Karl Joseph, who returned it untouched for the touchdown and a 20-10 lead.
But Rush came back and again was able to get his team across the 50-yard line, although he was helped by a pair of big Raiders penalties, the second of which was a pass interference call that moved the chains when the Cowboys went for it on fourth-and-5 on the first play of the fourth quarter.
Given the gift, Rush needed five more plays to get to the end zone, dropping off a short pass to running back Ronnie Hillman on the right side for the final seven yards.
But Rush needed only two plays on the next possession. After an 11-yard punt return and a 15-yard Oakland penalty gave Dallas the ball at the Raiders' 47-yard line, Rush stepped up on second down and laid a perfect pass into the hands of Lance Lenoir bursting down the seam for a 44-yard touchdown strike, the Cowboys taking the lead for good, 24-20.
His night done after that, Rush has now thrown six touchdown passes in the Cowboys' four preseason games with scoring tosses in each of the outings.
Moore then came on for the final 4:02 of the game, and he completed 2-of-4 passes for 10 yards in his limited time. But the Cowboys were forced to punt, the Raiders taking over at their own 22-yard line with 1:47 on the clock.
And Oakland threatened, quarterback Connor Cook finding wide receiver Johnny Holton alone for a 36-yard gain to the Dallas 9-yard line with nine seconds left. But two attempts into the end zone fell incomplete, the Cowboys holding on for the win.
With the victory, the Cowboys moved to 3-1 on the preseason, their first time winning three exhibition games since the 2012 preseason. They're set to play the Texans in their final preseason contest, which is scheduled for this coming Thursday, before the regular season opens up on Sept. 10 when Dallas hosts the rival New York Giants.