In the annual "dress rehearsal" game of the preseason schedule, the Cowboys eventually suffered a 28-14 loss to the Minnesota Vikings over four quarters of play in front of 86,082 fans.
That was really secondary, though, to what took place in the first two quarters when the team's projected starters got in their work. Based on those opening 30 minutes of action, Dallas showed encouraging signs of good things to come in the 2015 season.
Of course, as Tony Romo goes, so too go the Cowboys. And while he was rather pedestrian in his first two offensive series of the night, the unit managing only 18 total yards, his last three series proved he's ready to go, the team producing 128 yards and two scores.
Romo downplayed the slow start, saying, ""When you're in there and go through the situations every week, every day, whether you're at training camp or practice, what happens is everything speeds up just a little bit. … It usually takes about a series to get up to game speed."
He certainly proved as much. The first touchdown came off play-action early in the second quarter when Romo found Terrance Williams on a crossing pattern over the middle. The receiver, who held down No. 1 wideout duties with Dez Bryant getting the night off, took the pass in stride and then hit the afterburners, turning the corner and racing down the right sideline 60 yards to pay dirt.
"I just hope it comes through more this year," Williams said of his touchdown. "I'm proud of Tony just finding a way to get me the ball. (Hopefully) I can show him that if he throws me the ball, more good things can happen, and the more dangerous we can be."
That was followed later in the second frame with an 8-yard scoring toss to Lucky Whitehead, which was a welcome display of vintage Romo. The quarterback used his patented spin move to buy more time in the pocket before finding his target streaking wide open across the end zone.
While the quarterbacking duties are safely secure, running back remains another matter. If Joseph Randle had the upper hand in the race for the lead role coming into this game, he may have left it now second on the depth chart.
Randle got the start against the Vikings and played the entire first quarter, but rushed for just 15 yards on six carries. In came Darren McFadden for two series in the second quarter, and he proceeded to total 37 yards on just four attempts, including rushes for 13 and 15 yards.
And both handled their carries behind four of the five starters on the offensive line, only Zack Martin getting the night off as a precaution after suffering a neck stinger last week. Meaning the decision as to who will be the Cowboys' starting running back still seems far from settled.
"It was good to see those guys play," said head coach Jason Garrett, referring to his two running backs. "We wanted to come in and run the football tonight, and except for those situations where we got behind the chains with the penalties, I think we were able to do that. It opens up so much more for the rest of our offense."
On the other side of the ball, the Cowboys defensive starters played the entire first half, with the front line giving notice that they could indeed be dominant this year. No longer the weak link of the unit, they harassed Minnesota's quarterbacks throughout the first half, rookie Randy Gregory recording his third sack in as many preseason games.
"We were playing our type of ball," said defensive tackle Tyrone Crawford. "We were quick off the line, as far as the front, and we were communicating well. We were playing fast, on our keys, and I like how we were getting three-and-outs."
That's not to say the defense as a whole was perfect, though. The unit did give up 143 total yards through two quarters, 125 of which came through the air.
The longest play surrendered was a 39-yard bomb from quarterback Teddy Bridgewater to receiver Mike Wallace down the right sideline with cornerback Brandon Carr in coverage. That gave the visitors the ball on the Cowboys' 12-yard line.
But there, the defense then held strong, the Vikings having to settle for a 28-yard field goal. That would be the first of two field goals the Cowboys would allow in the first half, the other a 45-yarder with only 1:05 left in the second quarter.
"We have the mindset that we don't want to let them score," said Crawford, "and we have been successful with it the last couple of games."
Really the Cowboys' biggest concern to come out of the night was again the coverage units on special teams. The struggles of the first two preseason contests had been rightfully blamed on the fact that many of those on the field were backups or players who might not make the roster.
That wasn't the case this time around, as those manning the special teams duties early in the game were primarily projected starters. But the results were the same, as after the Cowboys' first score, Cordarrelle Patterson took the ensuing kickoff back 107 yards to the end zone, the second week in a row that Dallas has given up a special teams touchdown, having allowed a blocked punt for a score at San Francisco.
"It was disappointing," said Garrett. "Obviously, their guy (Patterson) is one of the best in the league, but you can never give up kickoff returns for touchdowns in this league and expect to be successful. We'll get a chance to look at it tomorrow and see what the issue was. We have to do a better job in that area."
The second half of the game, which was left to those fighting for roster spots and their place on the depth chart, was largely dominated by Minnesota, who added a touchdown and two-point conversion in the third quarter, and then tacked on one more in the fourth to round out the scoring.
This marked the Cowboys third defeat of the 2015 preseason and their eighth straight exhibition loss, dating back to 2013. They'll host the Houston Texans on Thursday at 7:00 p.m. to wrap up their preseason schedule.