Dallas Cowboys

Cowboys flash potential in third preseason loss

Consider Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo ready for the regular season and Darren McFadden the front runner for the starting running back job.

Romo completed 5 of 8 passes for 88 yards and threw two second-quarter touchdowns in Saturday night’s 28-14 preseason loss against the Minnesota Vikings at AT&T Stadium.

Romo threw a deep in route to receiver Terrance Williams, who outraced the Vikings’ secondary 60 yards to the end zone.

Showing that his patented spin move remains deadly as ever at age 35, Romo did a 360 to buy time before locating undrafted free agent receiver Lucky Whitehead for an 8-yard touchdown pass.

“It was good for those guys to get some work,” coach Jason Garrett said. “Early on, we got bogged down a little bit by the penalties, but once we eliminated those, we got some good field position and cashed in down in the red zone.”

And with that, Romo’s night was done in what was an impressive dress rehearsal for the season. The Cowboys played without injured receiver Dez Bryant for a third consecutive preseason game.

The next time Romo takes the field will probably be with Bryant in the Sept. 13 season opener against the New York Giants. He is not expected to play against the Houston Texans in Thursday’s preseason final.

Romo said the offense, which got only one first down in the first quarter, just needed a little time heat up.

“When you’re in there and go through the situations every week, every day, whether you’re at training camp or practice, what happens is, everything speeds up just a little bit,” Romo said. “Your internal gets a little faster, but when you play, you can slow it down with the repetitions you have in practice. It usually takes about a series to get up to game speed.”

In addition to Romo being ready for prime time, the Cowboys also took a step toward finally finding a replacement for the departed DeMarco Murray at running back.

Joseph Randle got the start and played the entire first quarter to underwhelming results, rushing six times for 15 yards.

But it was McFadden, who signed with the Cowboys in March after a failed seven-year career with Oakland, who sparked the running game.

McFadden rushed four times for 37 yards, including runs of 15 and 13 yards.

The question with McFadden remains, can he hold up physically as well as sustain his production for 16 games as the primary runner?

McFadden played a full season just once in his previous seven years where he was labeled a first-round bust in Oakland, missing 29 games with 15 different injuries, while averaging less than 4 yards per carry in each of the past three years.

But McFadden remains as swift as ever and just might have earned the job as the leader of the pack in what will be running-back-by-committee in Dallas.

Defensively, the Cowboys got linebacker Sean Lee some action for the first time after he missed all of last season with a tore anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee. He was kept out of the first two preseason games for precautionary reasons.

Lee got a quarter of work and was part of an improved run defense, which had been gashed against the San Francisco 49ers and San Diego Chargers the previous two weeks.

The return of defensive tackle Tyrone Crawford also played a role in the Cowboys’ success against the run.

But it was the pass rush and the continued impressive play of rookie defensive end Randy Gregory that stood out most.

Gregory got his third sack in as many preseason games with a third-down trap of Teddy Bridgewater to force a field goal in the first quarter.

The sack came two plays after Bridgewater hit receiver Michael Wallace for 39 yards, giving the Vikings a first down at the 12.

Three plays later, the Vikings had to settle for a 28-yard field goal.

Gregory, a rookie second-round pick, had a second sack wiped out because of a holding penalty in the secondary.

The biggest disappointment of the night was a 107-yard kickoff return for a touchdown by Vikings receiver Cordarrelle Patterson.

It came right after Romo’s 60-yard touchdown to Williams and against a coverage team that included a host of veterans and starters. It continued a poor preseason for the Cowboys on special teams.

“It was disappointing,” Garrett said. “Obviously, their guy [Patterson] is one of the best in the league, but you can never give up kickoff returns for touchdowns in this league and expect to be successful.”

The Cowboys are now 0-3 heading into Thursday’s preseason finale against the Texans at AT&T Stadium. Dallas has lost eight consecutive preseason games, including an 0-4 mark in 2014.

Clarence Hill, 817-390-7760

Twitter: @clarencehilljr

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