Tony Romo took the field as the Dallas Cowboys quarterback at O.Co Coliseum on Friday night for first time since the season-ending loss to the Washington Redskins last December.
It was also the first time since he got an $108 million contract extension, the first time since he received Peyton Manning-like input in the offense and the first time since he underwent minor back surgery in the off-season.
Well, the more things change, the more things ...
The Cowboys’ offense proved to be in midseason form against the Oakland Raiders in what was the first outing of the preseason for Romo and the starters.
Romo’s numbers looked good as he completed 6 of 8 passes for 88 yards in two series, but the results were disappointing — a field goal after getting the ball on the 16-yard line following a turnover, a blocked field goal following a good second drive and three penalties that continued to put the Cowboys behind the chains in Friday’s 19-17 loss at Oakland.
Coach Jason Garrett held a “Come to Jesus” meeting with his young players because of their inconsistent play in the 24-20 preseason opening victory against the Miami Dolphins on Sunday.
What fire and brimstone does he have left for a group of veterans who continually go down the same path of self-destruction?
“I thought the first team defense obviously creating another turnover on the first series of the game was outstanding,” Garrett said. “The offense didn’t cash in on that, we had a holding penalty early on that put us in bad down and distance and it cost us a field goal rather than a touchdown opportunity. I thought Tony got into a little bit of a groove in that second drive throwing the ball. Obviously when you get a field goal blocked, that’s not a good thing either. Those are plays that are going to hurt you. They’re not winning football plays. We’ve got to make sure we correct that.”
It’s early, you say?
Working out kinks is what the preseason is for?
But we are not talking about developing chemistry up front or adjusting to a new scheme type of things.
These pre-snap penalties have been problems since forever.
And just like the Cowboys have emphasized forcing turnovers and running the ball better, they have made a concerted effort this training camp to stop the mistakes.
And if truth be told, it hasn’t taken defensive end DeMarcus Ware, linebacker Sean Lee or defensive tackle Jason Hatcher long to get adjusted to the new defense.
It was a sack by a blitzing Lee and a forced fumble recovery by Hatcher on the Raiders’ first drive of the game that set the Cowboys up with such good field position.
But a first down at the 16 becomes first-and-20 at the 26 when veteran and perennial Pro Bowl tight end Jason Witten was called for holding on a good opening run by DeMarco Murray.
A tipped pass on a screen pass was followed by a sack. Romo had enough time but seemingly didn’t see wide open receivers Dez Bryant and Miles Austin, setting up third-and-25.
A flustered Cowboys offense then called a timeout before a 11-yard pass to Austin set up a 38-yard field goal.
The Cowboys took 1:56 to lose 4 yards on the drive
Romo and company looked as though they got things together on their second drive.
He threw a 14-yard pass to Bryant, followed two plays later by a strike to Austin on a slant for 11 yards.
The highlight was a nice adjustment on a slant to Bryant on the next play. The cornerback jumped the route. Romo waited until Bryant cleared and hit him for a 26-yard gain.
Even a false start penalty by tight end James Hanna couldn’t slow down the Cowboys.
A 15-yard pass to Bryant, who appears to be ready to live up to his goal of being one of league’s best receivers, came next.
The Cowboys were now in the red zone and this is where they have had the most trouble in the past.
Right on cue, a 3-yard run was followed by an incompletion to Witten and then a false start by guard Ron Leary, setting up a third-and-12 from the 19.
A pass to Murray came up short of the first down when he inexplicably ran out of bounds.
Then disaster struck when Raiders safety Tyvon Branch broke through the right side of the Cowboys’ line to block a 26-yard field goal attempt by Dan Bailey.
The worst part is that Bailey, arguably the team’s most indispensable player, got rocked on the play. The Cowboys are lucky he didn’t get hurt.
But two drives, two opportunities inside the red zone, and the Cowboys had just three points to show for it.
“We had a couple penalties that put us in a hole that cost us some points. That is something that we are going to correct real fast,” Romo said. “You just can’t overcome that stuff in the red zone. Other than that, I thought the guys did a really good job and it’s been going just how it was in training camp. It’s been good.”
Nice job. Nice effort.