MIAMI – In what is widely considered the "realest" of the exhibition games, the Cowboys slogged their way to a 6-3 halftime lead Saturday against the Dolphins – but it came with some unmistakably sloppy play from their starters.
The Cowboys eventually fell to 0-3 for the preseason in a 25-20 loss. But the main headline is the first-team offense, particularly its lauded line, which failed to show off the dominance expected of them.
The Cowboys meet the Dolphins at Sun Life Stadium.
Operating with the entire first-team offense, Tony Romo was hit four times and sacked three times in the first half, losing a fumble on one of those. He finished his night 10-of-18 for 87 passing yards, with the vast majority of those going to Dez Bryant.
"It was good to see Tony out there playing. He got knocked around a little bit, and that could be good and bad," said Cowboys coach Jason Garrett. "You want the protection to be clean, but at the same time for him, in his preparation for San Francisco, it's good to have him feel the physical part of the game. There were some good things and some things we have to work on."
The Cowboys offense, widely considered the strength of this squad, sputtered through five first-half possessions. Romo and Co. managed just 110 total yards on 32 plays – their best drive went 48 yards on 12 plays. The highlight of the first half was Dan Bailey, who connected on kicks of 52 and 50 yards.
"I thought the offense did not get into a great rhythm, but there were some positive things both in the run game and the pass game," Garrett said. "We had ourselves moving backwards a little bit with some penalties."
The stat sheet didn't look fantastic for the Cowboys' first defense, but the end result was positive. Ryan Tannehill and the Miami offense averaged five yards per play, with 171 total yards at the break. The Dolphins running backs tallied 93 first-half rushing yards on 17 carries, led by 64 yards on 10 carries from Knowshown Moreno.
Despite the Dolphins' ability to move down the field, the Cowboys' starters didn't allowed any major damage. They allowed Miami to drive all the way to their 12-yard line on the second possession of the game before ultimately stiffening and forcing a field goal.
"They were able to move the ball on us, but I thought our defense did a good job slowing them down in the red zone and taking the ball away. That is the most critical stuff," Garrett said.
Turnovers played a role in their second big stop, as rookie corner Tyler Patmon forced a fumble of Miami receiver Dion Sims on the Dallas 30-yard line. Barry Church recovered the loose ball, preventing the Dolphins from entering the Dallas red zone. [embedded_ad]
Speaking of Patmon, the rookie corner enjoyed a career night in guiding the Cowboys into position to win. He ended Tannehill's only drive of the second half when he skied over Brian Hartline for an interception on the Cowboys 10-yard line.
Later in the fourth quarter, Patmon made the play of the night when he intercepted Matt Moore on a swing pass at the Miami 9 and returned it to the end zone for a 20-11 lead.
The Dolphins answered on their next possession, when Moore found Harold Hoskins on a 27-yard touchdown strike. A two-point conversion cut the Cowboys' lead to 20-19. Moore followed that up by leading Miami on a 12-play, 55-yard drive to take a 25-20 lead with less than two minutes remaining.
For the second straight weekend, Dustin Vaughan was given a chance to lead a last-gasp drive, but it never quite got out of the gate.
LaRon Byrd, playing in his old college stadium, scored the Cowboys' only offensive touchdown of the night. On the Cowboys' second possession of the third quarter, Brandon Weeden connected with Byrd on a 27-yard score of their own – a corner fade. The score gave Dallas a 13-11 lead.