SAN DIEGO – Take the good with the bad after four quarters of preseason football – there was a decent amount of both.
Tony Romo didn't play a snap, but backup Brandon Weeden played admirably in his absence. The Cowboys' injured and inexperienced defense gave up a 395 yards, but produced two goal-line stands against the Chargers.
The culmination of that was a 10-7 halftime deficit. When the Cowboys' reserves took the field for the second half, San Diego took control to grab a 27-7 win.
"I thought there were some good things, and still a lot of areas that we need to improve," said Cowboys coach Jason Garrett. "I thought we drove the ball fairly well on offense a couple of different times. I think penalties hurt us both offensively and defensively. I thought they drove the ball well against us, for the most part – running it and throwing it."
The expectations were already low, given that most of the Cowboys' biggest names – Romo, Jason Witten, Dez Bryant, DeMarco Murray, Henry Melton and more – were held out of the game altogether. Despite those limitations, Weeden put in a solid performance in his first appearance as a Cowboy.
The Cowboys take on the San Diego Chargers at Qualcomm Stadium.
Weeden, a free agency acquisition in March after a disappointing stint as Cleveland's starter, completed 13-of-17 passes for 107 yards and a touchdown. The touchdown pass was the highlight, as he scrambled to his right, away from pressure and delivered a bullet to James Hanna just before taking a big hit.
"It was good. We made some good plays. The offensive line played well, and we were able to run the ball effectively, which gives us an opportunity to throw effectively," Weeden said. "We had some good plays and were able to finish it off."
The start wasn't the same for the first-string defense, which sat as many as seven potential starters for a variety of reasons, mainly injury. The Chargers' quarterbacks, led by Philip Rivers, didn't throw an incompletion until early in the fourth quarter. The group of Rivers, Kellen Clemens and Brad Sorensen combined to complete 14-of-16 passes for 243 total yards and a touchdown.
The Chargers running game did its own damage, as seven different ball carriers combined for 152 yards and two scores on 42 carries.
Despite a forgettable performance for much of the opening periods, the much-maligned defense did conjure up two highlights of its own. Early in the first quarter, the Cowboys produced a goal-line turnover when Justin Durant forced a diving Ryan Matthews to fumble into the end zone, where rookie cornerback Terrance Mitchell recovered for a touchback.
"We had a lot of guys that did not play, but next week we will get a better feel. With the guys we had out there, it felt good, it felt fast," Garrett said. "They put a drive on us, but that's going to happen. I felt like we dealt with it great and came up with a turnover at the end." [embedded_ad]
The defense perked up once again late into the second quarter, when they forced the Chargers into a short-yardage field goal on the strength of a tackle for loss from fellow rookie Anthony Hitchens.
The stops didn't come as easily in the second half, as Clemens connected with Dontrelle Inman for a 70-yard score. The Chargers effectively sealed the game on the Cowboys' ensuing possession, when Thomas Keiser strip-sacked Caleb Hanie and San Diego recovered.
Chargers running back Kerwynn Williams found the end zone for a 24-7 lead just two plays later.
Rookie quarterback Dustin Vaughan led the Cowboys to their longest possession of the second half – a 13-play, 73-yard march to the San Diego 3-yard line. It ended without points, however, as Vaughan took a sack on a 4th and 3 with less than two minutes remaining in the game.