ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. – The conditions weren't ideal for a quarterback's first NFL start: bitterly cold Buffalo wind and rain; an aggressive, blitzing Bills defense; no Dez Bryant.
Kellen Moore relished the opportunity, no matter the circumstances. He just would have liked a better final result than Sunday's 16-6 loss, which dropped the Cowboys to 4-11 entering the final week of a disappointing season.
"We can make excuses and all that stuff – bottom line is we had an opportunity to score some more points, we didn't, and hopefully we learn from this," Moore said. "We get one more (game) to go out there and play this year and hopefully take advantage of that one."
Promoted to starter this week as Tony Romo's third injury replacement this season, Moore completed 13 of 31 passes for 186 yards and an interception for a 48.6 rating. The Cowboys failed to score a touchdown for the fourth game this season, their six points coming from a pair of Dan Bailey field goals in the first half.
Like many games throughout the year, they had their chances.
Excluding the final kneel-down to end the first half, seven of the offense's eight drives ended in Buffalo territory – tied for the most all season. They converted 7-of-14 on third down, their highest percentage since Romo's final full start of the season Nov. 22 at Miami. The offense without Romo (collarbone; injured reserve) had four third-down conversions in the previous three games combined.[embeddedad0]
Sustaining drives was a sign of progress with Moore leading the huddle. Finishing drives was a familiar struggle.
The Cowboys settled for a field goal on their lone trip to the red zone, driving to the Bills' 9 on Moore's 34-yard completion to Brice Butler late in the first half. They only gained five yards on the next three downs.
Another promising drive in the second quarter ended in a punt. Moore's 12-yard pass to Butler would have created first-and-10 at the Bills' 28, but a holding penalty by center Travis Frederick – only the second penalty of the Pro Bowler's entire season – wiped out the play.
And in the third quarter, after Moore led the offense to the Bills' 26, he threw a low pass that deflected off Butler and got intercepted by cornerback Leodis McKelvin.
That was the closest the offense got to another score the rest of the game – a difficult finish after the two of their first four drives ended in points.
"I think we started off well, certainly had some good things happen in this game," Moore said. "At the end of the day we scored six points and didn't do enough things to win the game."
It was Moore's first start since his 2011 senior season at Boise State, and the four-year veteran had never taken a regular-season NFL snap prior to replacing 11-year veteran Matt Cassel in the starting lineup midway through the Cowboys' Week 15 loss to the New York Jets. He began the season on the Cowboys' practice squad after getting released by the Detroit Lions at the end of preseason.
Offensive coordinator Scott Linehan coached Moore in Detroit from 2012-13 and was pleased with the way the 26-year-old executed the game plan overall.
"He's been sitting, taking it all in, and he was made for this," Linehan said. "He was prepared for being able to play the game of football at the quarterback position, you can just see how much experience he has.
"He never gets rattled, made a couple really nice checks, which I've never seen a guy starting his first game do, got us some big plays and really impressed with what he was able to do in his first start."