SANTA CLARA, Calif. – Tony Romo's preseason debut was a short cameo, as expected: Two handoffs and a screen pass in a single three-and-out series.
The Cowboys' offense didn't fare very well Sunday night against the San Francisco 49ers after the veteran quarterback took the rest of the night off.
The Cowboys opened the game with four straight three-and-outs, and third-string quarterback Dustin Vaughan threw two-first half interceptions as Dallas dug too deep a hole in a 23-6 loss at Levi's Stadium.
"We didn't get much going on offense early on in this ballgame, and that's disappointing," head coach Jason Garrett said. "They controlled the line of scrimmage, and we didn't make very many first downs with that unit. I felt we moved it a little better as it went on, but the turnovers in the second quarter killed us."
Like last week's preseason-opening loss to San Diego, Sunday had a mix of positive and negative plays. Featuring more starters this week, the Cowboys' defense applied solid pressure in the first half and produced three sacks – one each from Ben Gardner and rookies Ryan Russell and Randy Gregory.
"That was the bright spot of the game," Garrett said. "We were in some compromising positions on defense – bad field position and scoring opportunities for them. We kept them out of the end zone, had some timely sacks, and that was impressive."
The offense also returned all three running back candidates who missed the opener due to injury: Darren McFadden, Joseph Randle and Lance Dunbar. McFadden started the game behind an offensive line that featured only two starters, Travis Frederick and Doug Free, and ran three times for four yards.
Randle had the most productive night with seven carries for 30 yards and found positive yardage on a couple of broken plays. Dunbar had two catches for three yards.
But overall the offense never got into sync. Backup Brandon Weeden left in the second quarter and was evaluated by team medical staff after a blow to the head, according to a press box announcement. In relief, the first of Vaughan's two interceptions was returned 37 yards for a touchdown to help put San Francisco ahead 13-0 at halftime. The 49ers also averaged 26.3 yards on three punt returns to aid their first-half field position.
Vaughan started the second half and took over at the 49ers' 38-yard line after a 26-yard punt return by rookie Lucky Whitehead. But the second-year quarterback nearly threw a third interception on third down, and Dan Bailey subsequently missed a 43-yard field goal try.
Rookie Jameill Showers finished the game at quarterback after the 49ers pushed the lead to 23-0 on a blocked punt and recovery for a touchdown. Showers threw an eight-yard touchdown pass to avoid a shutout with 4:11 remaining in the fourth quarter.
The Cowboys will hold one final week of practice in Oxnard, Calif., before breaking training camp and returning to Dallas for the remainder of preseason.
"Our defense has been playing well," Romo said. "We are getting pressure on the quarterback, and that's good to see. Offensively, we have to execute better. We have to know our assignments, and we just need to improve."