Ah, it's back. Feels good, doesn't it?
Sure, the Dallas Cowboys lost to the San Francisco 49ers, 17-9, in their first preseason game of the 2019 campaign, but who cares? Football is here.
After months of offseason workouts, continuous talk of contracts and two weeks of training camp, the Cowboys were finally back on the field for their exhibition debut. It wasn't exactly pretty – the 49ers were flagged 18 times for a whopping 216 penalty yards – but that tends to be the norm this time of year.
Dallas would finish with 294 yards of total offense while San Francisco picked up 339 yards. Neither side did well on third downs, as the Cowboys converted 27 percent of their chances and their opponent jut 33 percent.
Of course, the Cowboys' expected starters saw limited time in this one, the first-team offense playing only the opening series of the game. But the unit looked sharp, as Dallas marched 65 yards in nine plays for a 25-yard Brett Maher field goal and a quick 3-0 lead.
Dak Prescott connected on all four of his pass attempts for 23 yards, one of which was "completed" to the quarterback himself as he brought down a throw that was batted at the line of scrimmage. Wide receiver Michael Gallup, from whom much is expected this season, was the beneficiary of two of those passes for 19 yards and he forced a defensive pass interference that brought another 26.
With Ezekiel Elliot not on hand, it was fourth-round pick Tony Pollard who got the starting call at running back and the rookie picked up 16 yards on four carries in his first taste of NFL action.
That same beginning drive also featured four of the five expected starting offensive lineman with only Zack Martin getting the night off. That included Travis Frederick, who missed all of last season in his battle with Guillain-Barre Syndrome, the four-time Pro Bowler looking good in his return.
While the Cowboys defense had a few more starters not suited up, in particular DeMarcus Lawrence, Sean Lee, Byron Jones and Maliek Collins, the group also looked solid in its limited time. They were on the field for the entire first quarter, but basically allowed the 49ers nothing, a mere 25 yards combined and two punts.
Aside from those few plays, though, the regulars were content to throw on their ballcaps and stay comfortably safe on the sidelines. This game, much like the preseason overall, was for the backups, the chance for those fighting for roster spots to make an impression.
The most intriguing of those battles was likely the backup quarterback position with Cooper Rush and Mike White both trying to earn the honor of working behind Prescott. Rush got the first chance, coming in after Prescott, and he quickly led Dallas to another field goal, this from 40 yards, and a 6-0 advantage.
Rush again moved the Cowboys into field goal range later in the second quarter, but unfortunately, Maher, who has had a shaky training camp thus far, was this time unable to convert from 35 yards out, his margin for error seemingly getting thinner.
Given the break, the 49ers immediately responded with a seven play, 75-yard drive that resulted in a touchdown, the second-string Dallas defenders giving up a 21-yard pass and 15-yard run along the way. That was then followed by quarterback Nick Mullens capping off the drive by finding former Baylor wideout Jalen Hurd open for a 20-yard scoring completion and a 7-6 San Francisco lead.
But Rush would continue his effort by hustling the Cowboys down the field after the team took over possession with only 1:41 remaining in the half. The quarterback was good on 9-of-11 on his pass attempts during the drive, marching his team down to the 49ers' 13-yard line where Maher this time split the uprights on a 31-yard field goal to give Dallas a 9-7 advantage at the break.
The start of the second half saw Rush back behind center, but after the Cowboys went a quick three-and-out, the quarterback was done for the night. He completed 61.5 percent of his pass attempts (16-of-26) for 142 yards and a 76.1 passer rating.
So on came White to finish out the game, but behind a beleaguered offensive line, there wasn't much time for the second-year man to work. Dallas failed to put any more points on the board, as White finished with 87 passing yards, completing 9-of-20 attempts, with a lost fumble and a 57.7 passer rating.
Similarly, as the game wore on and those lower on the depth chart got their chance to get into the defensive action, the Cowboys struggled to stop the home team. San Francisco would go 80 yards on six plays to reach the end zone early in the fourth quarter with Hurd again getting the honors, this time with a 4-yard touchdown catch.
That would give the 49ers a lead they would never relinquish, a lead that grew to 17-9 when Robbie Gould would tack on a 53-yard field goal with just under five minutes remaining.
The Cowboys, however, would get one more shot. Taking possession at their own 7-yard line with 56 seconds remaining, Dallas marched all the way down to the San Francisco 4-yard line where they had first-and-goal with 29 seconds remaining, needing a touchdown and a two-point conversion to send this affair into overtime. But all four of White's attempts fell incomplete.
Ah, but football is back. The Cowboys will now return to Oxnard to resume training camp before then heading to Hawaii to take on the Los Angeles Rams in Honolulu next Saturday night at 9:00 p.m. CDT.