Tony Romo, sans shoulder pads, donned a baseball cap and stood on the sideline with his arms crossed for the second half. After six series this preseason, his work likely is done.
Romo is expected to be seen next again on opening day against the New York Giants on Sept. 13. He finished Saturday 5 for 8 passing for 88 yards and two touchdowns in five series against the Vikings, a stint that lasted 6:01 into the second quarter.
“It’s been a good camp and we’re executing at a very high level,” said Romo, who met with reporters with tape under his left eye to cover a sty that returned.
“Hopefully that’ll continue.”
Romo dealt with a sty early in training camp, and said he’d be making another trip to the ophthalmologist this week.
He then joked about covering the eye, saying: “I just did that right now, so all these bright lights wouldn’t horrify you guys.”
Romo’s night started off slowly, but he needed only one play in the second quarter to give the Cowboys a 7-3 lead. He found Terrance Williams on a crossing pattern. Cornerback Xavier Rhodes bit on the play-action fake, and Williams outran safety Robert Blanton and linebacker Chad Greenway to the end zone for a 60-yard score.
“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 of the slow start. “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.”
Romo later threw an 8-yard touchdown pass to rookie Lucky Whitehead on a 23-yard drive set up by a 40-yard punt return by Cole Beasley. The starting quarterback handed a 14-10 lead to backup Dustin Vaughan, who moved up in the pecking order with Brandon Weeden sidelined with a concussion.
The Cowboys played without two of their three All-Pro players on offense. Guard Zack Martin sat out with a stinger, and receiver Dez Bryant continues to rehab a hamstring injury.
Romo sat out the preseason opener against the Chargers. He played only one series last week against the 49ers, going 1 for 1 for minus-1 yards.
Darren McFadden is doing a better job backing up Joseph Randle’s “meat on the bone” comment than Randle himself so far in the preseason.
McFadden rushed for 37 yards on four carries against the Vikings, averaging 9.3 yards. His highlight play was a nifty 15-yard run that showed he still has the burst that made him the fourth overall pick in 2008.
“I felt like we were able to get the running game going,” McFadden said. “We established something tonight.”
Randle, meanwhile, gained only 15 yards on six carries. He had 30 yards on seven carries in last week’s game against the 49ers.
“It was good. There are some things we’ve seen on tape that can help us in the future,” Randle said. “I didn’t get a lot of work, but the work I did get was good work.”
It’s too early to draw definitive conclusions, but it’s safe to say that McFadden has made a better impression. The question remains, though, whether McFadden can stay healthy.
McFadden, 28, has missed 29 games with 15 different injuries, and battled hamstring injuries in training camp. But, when healthy, he’s shown he can be an effective back.
McFadden played all 16 games for the first time in his career last season with the Raiders, but had a more limited role. He averaged less than 10 carries a game.
For Randle, he hasn’t been given the chance to show he can handle a No. 1 workload. This is a guy who has 507 career rushing yards on 105 carries.
So the plan remains for Randle, McFadden and change-of-pace back Lance Dunbar to form a committee to replace DeMarco Murray. Randle and McFadden seem comfortable with that, too.
“We are going to keep working, and we’re going to keep grinding,” Randle said. “We’ll let the coaches do their job. I think we’ll keep doing our job and run the ball.”
Special teams woes
The Cowboys had more issues on special teams Saturday.
Cordarrelle Patterson returned a kickoff 107 yards for a touchdown in the first half. Only one Cowboy — a diving Keith Smith — got his hands on Patterson during the return.
Lucky Whitehead fumbled a punt against the Chargers in the exhibition opener. Last week against the 49ers, the Cowboys had a blocked punt returned for a touchdown, saw Dan Bailey miss a 43-yard field goal and gave up 105 yards on four punt returns.
“We’re trying to play a lot of people and we’re trying to learn from the mistakes that we make from week to week,” special teams coordinator Rich Bisaccia said. “We’re going to look at this and hopefully correct it and move on.”
The good news came in the form of a 40-yard punt return by Beasley to set up a Cowboys’ touchdown.
Whitehead, a rookie free agent who was the favorite to win the return job, was not the first choice on punts or kickoffs Saturday. Lance Dunbar took the kickoff return job to start the game.
“We felt like we started the game if we played today, that’s kind of what it would look like a little bit,” Bisaccia said. “I was excited about Lance. I thought he had a good return. And certainly Bease had a good return.”
Rookie Randy Gregory kept his streak alive. The defensive end had his third sack in three preseason games. He had a fourth taken away on a defensive holding penalty by Robert Steeples. In three preseason games, the second-round pick has seven tackles, three sacks and two pressures.
“I wouldn’t say I’m a veteran just yet, but doing some things well,” Gregory said. “I think getting a lot of help from the inside guys. The D-tackles, I always try to give them credit. A lot of times, me getting a sack is because of their pressure. I think collectively, as a defensive line, we’re doing a pretty good job.”
▪ The Cowboys were called for four holding penalties and a hands-to-the-face in the first half. Jason Witten, Doug Free, Ron Leary and Mackenzy Bernadeau were flagged for holding, and Free was penalized for a hands to the face.
▪ Cornerback Brandon Carr had a defensive holding penalty and gave up a 39-yard reception to Mike Wallace. But he later had an interception, taking the ball away from receiver Stefon Diggs on a pass thrown by Shaun Hill.
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