Dallas Cowboys

Cowboys fall in preseason opener at San Diego

Dallas Cowboys rookie running back Gus Johnson scores a touchdown on a 5-yard run in the second quarter.
Dallas Cowboys rookie running back Gus Johnson scores a touchdown on a 5-yard run in the second quarter. AP

The first preseason game of the season is rarely flawless.

And it wasn’t for the Dallas Cowboys on Thursday night at Qualcomm Stadium.

The Cowboys lost two first-half fumbles and were hurt by dropped passes throughout the game in a 17-7 loss to San Diego.

Undrafted rookie running back Gus Johnson, who started, got the Cowboys’ only score on a 5-yard run.

The Cowboys played four starters on offense and six on defense.

Offensive linemen Ron Leary, Travis Frederick and Zack Martin joined receiver Terrance Williams in getting playing time. Safeties J.J. Wilcox and Barry Church, linebacker Anthony Hitchens and defensive linemen Tyrone Crawford, Jeremy Mincey and DeMarcus Lawrence started on defense.

The Cowboys’ first drive of the preseason ended with a turnover.

The 11-play drive stalled at the San Diego 32 when Brandon Weeden bobbled a shotgun snap that eventually was recovered by Patrick Robinson at the Dallas 33.

“I was going to throw the slant over to my right, and Travis [Frederick] snaps it back there pretty good. It just went through my hands,” said Weeden, who completed four of five passes for 42 yards. “It was coming in pretty good, and I didn’t catch it. It was a disaster after that. I just need to make the catch."

Six plays later, Danny Woodhead scored on an 8-yard run on a draw up the middle for a 7-0 lead at the 5:58 mark of the opening quarter.

“The defense made some good stops. I don’t think we tackled as good as we need to, particularly when they got down there in the red zone. You have to be able to stay in your gaps. You have to be able to get off your blocks. You have to be able to tackle in this league,” Cowboys coach Jason Garrett said. “They made too many positive running plays. To be able to run the ball into the end zone down there, we have to get better."

Dallas tied the game early in the second period on Johnson’s 5-yard run. The touchdown capped a 62-yard, eight-play drive that was led by quarterback Dustin Vaughan, who completed 12 of 18 passes in the game for 105 yards.

San Diego moved into position to score again midway in the second quarter after rookie Lucky Whitehead fumbled after a 20-yard punt return and the Chargers recovered at the Dallas 44.

However, the Cowboys held on four downs, including a fourth-down pass breakup by Corey White.

A 30-yard punt return by Javontee Herndon set up a nine-yard scoring drive for the Chargers.

Branden Oliver scored on a 10-yard run to make it 14-7 at the half.

“I thought the biggest things were the turnovers. We drove the ball pretty well. We had the ball for nine, 10 or 11 plays on that first drive, we make the big fourth down, then we snap the ball over the quarterbacks head and give them 40 yards on a turnover, then they go down and score. It certainly was the biggest play for the first unit,” Garrett said. “There were some positive things, but you have to take care of the football or you are not going to win in this league.”

Nick Novak added a 52-yard field goal early in the fourth quarter to make it 17-7.

The Cowboys play at San Francisco Aug. 23.

Clarence E. Hill Jr., 817-390-7760

Twitter: @clarencehilljr