SAN DIEGO – It was exactly the type of preseason opener you might expect from a Jason Garrett-coached team.
The Cowboys let a select few veterans get some work on Thursday against the Chargers, but it was a light night for most of the established roster – not to mention any and all injury concerns.
Instead, the 17-7 loss served as an extended audition for the plethora of rookies, role players and longshots to showcase their stuff in a live setting.
"Just getting out there, I always have jitters no matter what game it is," said Tyrone Crawford. "Just getting the jitters out for the first time -- it feels good."
It went about as one might expect. There were plenty of positives – such as Cowboys quarterbacks completing 12-of-18 passes for 125 total yards in the first half, not to mention the most impactful night of Devin Street's young career, as he caught three balls for 45 yards in the first half. Newcomers like Byron Jones, Damien Wilson and La'el Collins made fantastic first impressions, and fan favorite Gus Johnson found first half pay dirt.
There was plenty to dislike, as well. Dallas coughed up two fumbles in a sloppy first half – both of which led to San Diego touchdowns. Brandon Weeden fumbled a snap on the 11th play of the game, leading to a Chargers recovery and an eventual score. Later in the first half, Lucky Whitehead fumbled a punt return, setting San Diego up for its second scoring drive.
"There were some positive things, but you have to take care of the football or you are not going to win in this league," Garrett said.
How the Chargers scored those touchdowns was equally disheartening, as they tore through the Cowboys' defense for 71 first half rushing yards and two touchdowns on the ground.
"The defense made some good stops. I don't think we tackled as good as we need to, particularly when they got down there in the red zone," Garrett said. "You have to be able to stay in your gaps. You have to be able to get off your blocks. You have to be able to tackle in this league. They made too many positive running plays; to be able to run the ball into the end zone down there, we have to get better."
Of course, it's worth mentioning the full list of stalwarts who didn't take the field at Qualcomm Stadium for the first of four preseason games. The Cowboys offense kicked off its night without Tony Romo, Dez Bryant, Jason Witten, Tyron Smith, Doug Free or Joe Randle.
A similar story played out for the defense, which went to work without Sean Lee, Brandon Carr, Orlando Scandrick, Morris Claiborne, Nick Hayden and Rolando McClain.
That provided opportunity for plenty of other players, however. With Weeden sitting down after just one series, both Dustin Vaughan and Jameill Showers got extended windows of playing time. Without the trio of Randle, Darren McFadden and Lance Dunbar, Johnson and Lache Seastrunk combined to take the vast majority of running back snaps.
The Cowboys scored their only points of the night on an eight-play, 62-yard drive in the second quarter -- engineered by Vaughan and capped off by Johnson's run. Fourth quarterback Jameill Showers would be given his chance to run the offense after halftime. He looked composed doing it, as he completed 5-of-11 passes for 40 yards and scrambled for another 18.
Showers led the Cowboys on the longest possession of the second half, a 14-play, 42-yard drive in the game's waning minutes. It wasn't overly dramatic, however. A 52-yard field goal by San Diego kicker Nick Novak would ensure a two-possession lead and a preseason-opening win for the hosts.