SAN DIEGO -- The Dallas Cowboys targeted one player at the outset of free agency in hopes of improving last year's 8-8 team.
They flew a private jet to Kansas City to court cornerback Brandon Carr, threw a feast for him at Cowboys Stadium and then gave him a five-year, $50.1 million contract.
Defensive coordinator Rob Ryan called Carr the best player in free agency. What he does is give Ryan a physical, tough, man-to-man cornerback.
Much of the preseason talk has gone to top pick Morris Claiborne, the former LSU standout picked sixth overall who missed last week's preseason opener because of a sprained knee.
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Carr is considered the team's shutdown cornerback, and the first true one in Dallas since the days of Hall of Famer Deion Sanders, no matter what owner Jerry Jones said about Claiborne during the draft.
And if you didn't know before, you do now -- after Carr's lockdown, game-changing performance in Saturday's 28-20 preseason loss to the San Diego Chargers.
Carr had two interceptions to spark the Cowboys to a 10-0 lead when the starters were on the field in the first half. His play overshadowed Claiborne's debut and the offense's improvement from the previous week.
Carr's first interception was a brilliant bait job out of Sanders' Hall of Fame playbook. He let receiver Robert Meachem seemingly run free on a post route, prompting Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers to throw deep. Carr then caught up with the ball in the air and ran under Meachem to pick it off at the 17-yard line.
Carr intercepted another Rivers pass the next time the Chargers had the ball. It was another ball across the middle, and Carr again undercut the receiver, this time it was Vincent Brown, for a juggling interception.
Because the focus is mainly on individuals and there is little game-planning in the preseason, especially the first two games, it's hard to make a judgment about a team.
But thanks to Carr, there is no doubting the secondary will be much improved compared to the past two years, when Cowboys gave up more passing yards than any time in team history.
That he was able to do it despite the team's top five pass rushers, linebackers DeMarcus Ware and Anthony Spencer, nose tackle Jay Ratliff and defensive end Jason Hatcher, among eight starters and 19 players sidelined with injuries, makes it even more impressive.
One of the big excuses in the past for the poor play in the secondary was the lack of a consistent pass rush. Well, it didn't affect Carr, which didn't go unnoticed in the owners box by either Jones or injured tight end Jason Witten.
"Witten punched me in the side and said a couple of those [interceptions] might have made a difference [last year] and I think he's right," Jones said at halftime.
Certainly, more work needs to be done by the Cowboys' offense before its is ready for the regular season. It will help when some of their starters return, especially center Phil Costa, guard Nate Livings, receiver Miles Austin and Witten.
Tony Romo completed nine of 13 passes for 75 yards as the top offense gained 102 net yards. They had 14 net yards against the Raiders.
Romo drove the Cowboys as close as the 12-yard line, but the drive was stalled by a holding penalty, setting up a 40-yard field goal by Dan Bailey.
The offensive line had two holding calls and an illegal man downfield penalty. But it performed solidly overall, providing good pass protection and open running lanes for backs DeMarco Murray and Felix Jones.
"Yeah, we moved it good. But we hurt ourselves with penalties and as a football team, we need to correct that," Romo said.
Kyle Orton directed a seven-play, 66-yard drive that included passes for 13 yards to tight end James Hanna, 10 yards to receiver Dwayne Harris, and 35 yards to Kevin Ogletree.
Running back Jamize Olawale powered the ball in for a 2-yard touchdown.
The Cowboys led 10-0 at halftime and 13-7 after three quarters. The Chargers did the bulk of their damage in the fourth quarter against the Cowboys' third-team players on offense and defense.
Clarence E. Hill Jr.