As preseason games go — in that they don’t count — the Dallas Cowboys have a lot to feel good about following a 37-30 loss to the Baltimore Ravens on Saturday night at AT&T Stadium.
Giving up a 108-yard kickoff return for a touchdown to Deonte Thompson and trailing 34-10 in the second half weren’t highlights.
But the pregame bullet points of evaluating the health of quarterback Tony Romo and charting a sliver of improvement from a defense that ranked last in the league last season proved to be bright spots.
Romo, playing in his first game since December back surgery that sidelined him for 2013 season finale, looked good in two series.
After spending much of training camp in bubble wrap as the Cowboys only practiced him half the time and kept him out of last week’s preseason opener against the San Diego Chargers, Romo ran around with ease and threw the ball effectively.
He completed 4 of 5 passes for 80 yards and a 31-yard touchdown pass to receiver Dez Bryant.
“Good. I feel good, just part of going through it and continuing to get stronger and you go out and play,” Romo said about his back. “And keep going.”
Coach Jason Garrett said he thought Romo looked comfortable.
“I thought he looked like himself and moved around in the pocket,” Garrett said. “He made some good throws that looked like he saw the field well. He felt the pocket really well and looked comfortable moving the team.”
The Cowboys’ defense only gave up a field goal in three series against the Baltimore starters, which was an improvement considering they were gashed repeatedly via the run and the pass against the San Diego Chargers last week and played without three starters.
The touchdown to Bryant came after Romo put the Cowboys in a 7-0 hole with a fumbled handoff to running back DeMarco Murray. Defensive end Courtney Upshaw scooped the ball up and returned it 26 yards for a score.
Starting on the 17-yard line on their next possession, Romo and the offense displayed all the versatility the team hopes to use this season.
Running back DeMarco Murray rushed five times for 25 yards, including a long run of 15 yards, on the nine-play, 83-yard drive. Romo got the opening first down on a 6-yard slant to Bryant. He hit Murray for 21 yards on a screen pass and then tossed a pump-and-go fly pattern to Bryant for the touchdown.
Bryant outjumped cornerback Dominique Franks for the touchdown.
“Tony made the call, and he thought it was going to work,” Bryant said. “I can’t tell you the play, but he felt good with it. He wanted me to go get it, so I went and got it for him.”
Romo, Bryant and Murray then took a seat for the rest of the night.
Garrett said the offense did a lot of positive things, save for the fumble.
“I thought there were a lot of good things. Our offense was able to move the ball,” Garrett said. “We ran it, we threw it and had a couple of long drives for points. I thought those were all positives. A couple of negatives in the first half was that fumble they picked up and ran back for a touchdown and the kickoff return for a touchdown. I thought our defense did a good job getting off the field a couple of times against their first unit.”
Thompson’s kickoff return came immediately after the Bryant touchdown.
By the time the defense took the field for the first time against Baltimore, only 3:25 remained in the first quarter.
The first drive ended with a punt and two Joe Flacco incompletions.
Baltimore’s second drive was aided by a 50-yard kickoff return by Thompson after a 53-yard field goal from Cowboys kicker Dan Bailey.
A 18-yard run by Ray Rice set up a 40-yard field goal from Justin Tucker to make it the score 17-10. But Flacco completed only one pass for 4 yards.
And the Cowboys got off the field on a third-and-2 play because of a nice pass breakup by safety J.J. Wilcox on Baltimore receiver Steve Smith, who was covered tightly by cornerback B.W. Webb.
Garrett called it a big sequence for the defense.
“That’s what J.J. Wilcox does,” Garrett said. “He showed good range to get over there and knock the ball away. It was a big hit and an important sequence for our team.”
The defense forced a three-and-out on the next series Flacco took the field. The punt came after a nice pass breakup from fourth-string cornerback Tyler Patmon on third down.
When Flacco, a former Super Bowl MVP, took the field for a fourth time, he was 1 of 7 for 4 yards.
The defense appeared to force another punt when Flacco threw an incomplete pass on third-and-1 from his own 28.
But defensive end George Selvie was flagged for a roughing the passer penalty, giving Baltimore a first down.
Flacco got into the end zone two plays later. A 38-yard pass to Jacoby Jones against third-string rookie cornerback Terrance Mitchell was followed by a 19-yard touchdown pass to Torrey Smith, also against Mitchell.
Justin Tucker’s 38-yard field goal made it 27-10 at halftime.
“We did a lot better than last week, but we still gave up a couple of explosive plays,” linebacker Justin Durant said. “It is still an improvement from last week. We are all just flowing better. We are getting a better push up front. The linebackers are flowing, and the safeties are coming down making plays.”