Spagnola: Don't Ever Sweat The Final Scores At This Time Of Year

OXNARD, Calif. – Not sure why this didn't occur to me after all these years coming to training camp, after covering all these preseason games, probably just more than 100 of them in 30

But this sure did just the other day.

The NFL just shouldn't keep score in preseason

What's the point? The score doesn't mean a hill of beans. Has no bearing on the regular season, no barometer of things to come. And the record? Pffft. Sure as heck doesn't decide home-field advantage in the Super Bowl.

Meaningless.

Like, do you remember last year? Do you remember the analytic types trying to convince everyone that a Cowboys' winless four-game preseason would mean the percentages stacked highly against finishing with an above .500 record? Or was it an indicator of missing the playoffs? Or maybe an inability to win a playoff game.

Then after getting off to an 0-2 start, yes, the Cowboys did finish the preseason 0-4, only coming within five points in any of those games, yet finished with that 12-4 record, won the NFC East and just their second playoff game since 1996.

So get outta here with all that mumbo-jumbo, since once again they are off to an 0-1 start to the preseason following Thursday night's 17-7 loss at San Diego, meaning they have now lost six consecutive preseason games. Their last win, 24-18, came on Aug. 24, 2013, which is their only victory in their past nine preseason games.

          Next to that loss, along with the 0-1 record, wonder if there's an asterisk pointing out that the Cowboys on Thursday night did not play with Tony Romo, any of their top three running backs, any of their top three cornerbacks, no Tyron Smith or Doug Free, no Jason Witten or Dez Bryant, no Terrell McClain or Rolando McClain and no Nick Hayden? That's 11 projected starters and at least a nickel corner, all because of injury or coach's discretion.

          Is there a disclaimer that at one point in the fourth quarter, with Gus Johnson (shoulder) joining the other three inactive running backs on the bench, Tyler Clutts, a fullback by trade, was the running back behind fullback Ray Agnew, a one-two backfield punch most definitely certain to scare the daylights out of any defensive combination?

          And, I know darn sure no one will point out that starting left offensive tackle Darrion Weems, who indeed struggled at times against the Chargers, was playing and starting Thursday night in his first game of any kind since starting in the Cowboys' Aug. 29, 2013, preseason finale against the Texans at AT&T Stadium.

          Or so as to not wear out punter Chris Jones – he punted once – camp punter Tom Hornsey handled the next five punts and the Cowboys' only two kickoffs.

          And some would like to put a lot of stock in a game like this?

          Please. I know there are rational people out there.

          Hey, the only good thing about the score for the Cowboys, who were bussing back here to resume camp after the game along with the rest of us, was Chargers kicker Nick Novak hitting that 52-yard field goal with 9:14 left to play, putting San Diego up 17-7 and virtually eliminating any possibility of Dallas scoring a touchdown to potentially send the game into overtime.

          While these first and fourth preseason games are all about individual efforts, and somewhat the second one, too – the Cowboys had to be encouraged with the performances of backup quarterbacks Brandon Weeden and Dustin Vaughan, second-year receiver Devin Street, rookie offensive lineman La'el Collins, backup tight end Gavin Escobar, the progress shown by Tyrone Crawford and Jack Crawford, the versatility of Tyler Patmon, Byron Jones and Corey White to play multiple positions in the secondary, rookie defensive end Randy Gregory, rookie defensive lineman Ryan Russell and linebacker Damien Wilson and the return ability of rookie Lucky Whitehead, so long as he holds onto the football. Still, this might be the most gratifying occurrence Thursday night:

          Rehabbing in helmets and shoulder pads before the game were running backs Darren McFadden (hamstring) and Lance Dunbar (ankle), head coach Jason Garrett saying McFadden would be taken off the NFI list and back at practice on Saturday, with Dunbar also saying his returning to practice on Saturday "is the plan."

          And as for Joe Randle (oblique strain), the final member of this inactive trio expected to handle the running chores this season, playing in Thursday's game would not have been out of the question if this were the regular season, and returning to practice is now likely.

          If this occurs with all three, that would be "running back competition on" once again to replace the departed DeMarco Murray, who we see is being held out of practice by his new team in Philadelphia for precautionary reasons. And there are now six practices coming up before preseason game No. 2, Aug. 23 at San Francisco.

          With this, we can resume cyphering what roles these three will play in the running game, and possibly appease those who, in their injury absence, have increasingly been fearing the Cowboys going to pot running the ball in Murray's absence. Also increasingly screaming to sign aging veteran backs who are out of work when there are 2,880 players currently employed in the 32-team league and they are not.

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          As Cowboys COO Stephen Jones said Thursday night before the game on Countdown To Kickoff, "We've got to be patient."

          Meaning, don't start spending precious little-remaining salary cap dollars before you absolutely must because if you then do so needlessly, the bank might be broke when the team is jeopardized by a position of higher importance. The salary cap is real and veteran backs do not want to come to training camp for free, meaning without either an enticing signing bonus or some guaranteed base salary. (See Pierre Thomas unwilling so far to sign with the running back-needy Texans.)

Like, why would a veteran back run the risk of coming in, doing all the work in camp and then getting released on the final cut to 53 come Sept. 5? These guys, such as Chris Johnson, Steven Jackson, Ray Rice, Thomas, they've been around the NFL block. They know the score. Plus, as I'm told, you can just cross any possibility of Rice being signed by the Cowboys off your fantasy wish list.

Prudence would suggest compiling a lesser list, especially now with Johnson having suffered what Garrett called an A.C. shoulder joint separation in Thursday's game after finishing with 13 carries for 35 yards and a bruising 5-yard touchdown run. Even though the Cowboys' top trio is expected back in practice, they certainly don't want to wear them out in a second or fourth preseason game. If Johnson is unavailable, they'll need an inexpensive serviceable back to absorb snaps with Lache Seastrunk and Clutts during camp and preseason.

 "When the right time comes," Jones says, "we'll be able to get the guy we want to get if we don't already have him here, which we obviously have a lot of confidence in the three backs we have here on the roster."

So here we go, onward. Two practices this weekend, two more against the St. Louis Rams Monday and Tuesday, and two more then Thursday and Friday before departing for Santa Clara, Calif., for that second preseason game, this one against the Niners.

By then, maybe we can figure out a more appropriate scoring system, more of an accumulative evaluation of individual performances, sort of like team tennis, for these game that don't count.

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