Brad Childress (Drew Hallowell/Getty)
With both teams resting their starters in the preseason finale, few conclusions could be drawn Thursday night. The only certain thing is that the Cowboys took an early 10-0 lead that translated into a 16-10 win.
Brad Childress listed staying injury-free as one of the accomplishments of his preseason, and even without his starters playing Thursday night, it didn’t appear the team suffered any major injuries. What they did suffer was their third loss of the preseason in a 16-10 Dallas win in a battle of the backups at Texas Stadium.
Two days before the final roster cuts are mandated by the NFL, the second- and third-team players got one final opportunity to put their progress on film, as both teams elected to sit their offensive and defensive starters for the entire game.
One of the players looking to show improvement was quarterback John David Booty, who played the first half and led the Vikings on one touchdown drive while going 8-for-15 for 93 yards and one interception. His rival for the third quarterback spot, Brooks Bollinger, completed 6 of 18 passes for 82 yards in the second half.
But it was a quick start for Dallas, helped dramatically by Booty’s early interception, that gave the Cowboys a 10-0 lead, more than their margin of victory in the end.
As promised, the Vikings’ starters didn’t see action, and the Cowboys’ backup offense worked their way through the defense on the opening drive. Richard Bartel picked up the initial first down with a 12-yard pass to Mike Jefferson and followed that with another first-down pass one play later with an 8-yarder to Sam Hurd. But it was a running play on an end-around to Hurd that put the Cowboys in scoring position early. Hurd broke contain, then broke an arm tackle attempt by Dee McCann to sprint 35 yards to the 20 before Vinny Ciurciu caught him from behind. From there, Felix Jones did the rest on offense with a 12-yard run that offset two negative plays, but eventually the Cowboys needed Nick Folk for a 23-yard field goal to take an early 3-0 lead.
That lead would extend quickly, as Booty’s first pass of the game was intercepted by linebacker Tyson Smith. Two plays later, Tashard Choice was breaking contain around left end for an 11-yard touchdown and a 10-0 Dallas lead with 6:59 to play in the first quarter.
The offense couldn’t pick up a first down on its second drive either, but the Cowboys were able to get two of them – on a drive-opening 11-yard pass to Danny Amendola and a 24-yard pass to Mike Jefferson – but when the drive stalled, Folk couldn’t convert a 50-yard field goal attempt.
On their third drive, the Vikings finally found a rhythm. Booty opened with an 18-yard completion to Martin Nance and then converted a third-down, play-action pass to Maurice Hicks that went 19 yards to the 16-yard line. The quarterback continued to find his groove, hitting Garrett Mills for a 12-yard pass in the flat that he took to the 1-yard line. Hicks capped the drive on the next play with a 1-yard dive to draw within three points 53 seconds into the second quarter.
The Minnesota defense also continued to get better, forcing a Dallas punt without a first down, sending Booty back into action.
Like the previous drive, he opened with a first-down completion to Nance, this one going for 13 yards. Booty moved the chains again with a 12-yard completion to Aundrae Allison, but when Bobby Wade dropped a third-down pass that was on the numbers, the drive ended, leaving Chris Kluwe to pin the Cowboys on their own 4-yard line.
The teams traded two possessions each until Dallas got one more chance before halftime and took advantage of it. Bartel completed four straight passes in a hurry-up offense. In 38 seconds, the Cowboys went from their own 34-yard line to the Vikings’ 34-yard line and kicked a 52-yard field goal to assume a 13-7 halftime lead.
With Bollinger in to start the second half, the offense looked sharp with a combination of tough-running and quick-passing plays. Jeff Dugan converted third-and-5 with a 10-yard bullet from Bollinger, but the big play of the drive was a 32-yard run by rookie Albert Young, who ducked under three would-be tacklers in the backfield and found a seam to the 24-yard line. Young picked up another first down with a 5-yard run before the Vikings settled for a 25-yard field goal from Ryan Longwell to make it a 13-10 deficit less than five minutes into the second half.
But the third quarter quickly melted into a series of offensive inconsistency for both teams, exchanging four punts between them before the Cowboys put together another drive. They started deep in their own territory, but Bartel was on the money for a number of intermediate passes, connecting on gains of 12, 13 and 12 yards to get to midfield. But it was a defensive penalty – illegal contact on linebacker J. Leman – on a play in which Fred Evans would have had a sack that extended the drive. After an Otis Grigsby sack, Bartel got most of that yardage back with a screen pass that went 18 yards. Following a first-down pickup, Letroy Guion registered the second official sack of the drive, but two more completions by Bartel put Folk in field goal range. He connected on the 52-yard attempt for the final points with 11:14 left in the game, giving Dallas a 16-10 win when Minnesota’s offense couldn’t generate more than one two first downs over the next three series.
The good news for the Vikings is that their backups held their own relatively well against the backups for the Cowboys, considered a deep and contending team. Another piece of good news is that it didn’t appear any serious injuries occurred for Minnesota, but the bad news is that they finish the preseason 1-3 with little momentum heading into the Monday night regular-season opener in Green Bay.