Gil LeBreton

Dress rehearsal proves Cowboys ready for prime-time football

Cowboys Linebacker Sean Lee Talks About Playing For The First Time In Over A Year

Lee says he will be ready to play a full game in two weeks.
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Lee says he will be ready to play a full game in two weeks.

So, you were worried about the Dallas Cowboys?

Silly us. It appears that, based on the 25 minutes that mattered Saturday night, they were only playing preseason possum.

The quarterback who never practices? Ready for prime time.

The running back from Oakland who can never stay healthy? Limp-free and dazzling again.

The defense that couldn’t stop anybody? No touchdowns allowed again in the first half.

 

Jason Garrett says he's always been impressed with McFadden and is excited to see what he can do if he can remain healthy.

True, yes, they lost this preseason game, this exhibition, this $100-a-seat scrimmage.

The Minnesota Vikings’ 28-14 victory meant that the Cowboys have dropped eight of these preseason things in a row and 10 of their past 11.

But this is why God created StubHub.

The meaningful part of Saturday night’s script came in the game’s opening 25 minutes, when quarterback Tony Romo and the first-team offense were on display.

Romo, who I believe only practiced during training camp on Throwback Thursdays and Wisconsin state holidays, handed off brilliantly and passed the football sublimely — his 60-yard bomb to Terrance Williams being the best example.

Garrett says he was proud of how his first team performed in limited action

His other touchdown throw, though, was almost as Romo-esque as he spun away from the Vikings pass rush and looked up to find Lucky Whitehead racing to the left side of the end zone.

Wait until the rest of the league sees that the Cowboys, of all people, have a guy named “Lucky.”

That touchdown gave the home team a 14-10 lead, and Romo never played another down.

His work here was done — eight throws, five receptions, 88 yards, two touchdowns and a quarterback rating (139.6) that validated his efficiency.

Done, too, by halftime was the footwork of Darren McFadden, whose four carries netted 37 yards and hinted at greater things to come.

“It was good for those guys to get some work tonight,” coach Jason Garrett said of his No. 1 offense.

Receiver Dez Bryant did not play, but his absence was barely noticed.

Maybe they have finally figured this out, after 27 seasons of Jerry Jones training camps. As the coach would say, it’s a process, and coming out on the winning side of exhibition games borders on incidental.

To nail Saturday’s “dress rehearsal” — that’s what the NFL calls Week 3 of the preseason — suggests that Garrett has a veteran team that has learned its lines and paced itself well. Which hasn’t always been the case, of course.

The Cowboys have lost three of their past five regular-season openers and dropped three of five games to start the season in 2012 and 2013.

But even the first-team defense appears ready to go this time. The lone Minnesota score in the first half came on a 107-yard kickoff return by Cordarrelle Patterson.

The rest of the night featured an aggressive pass rush, particularly from rookie Randy Gregory, and an encouraging return by linebacker Sean Lee.

As Garrett put it, “He played 17 plays and he really looked like his old self.”

Minnesota running back Adrian Peterson, Owner Jones’ not-so-secret off-season crush, was held out of the game because of a thigh bruise.

And Vikings quarterback Teddy Bridgewater looked sharp, completing all seven of his passes.

Note to Cowboys fans: Minnesota head coach Mike Zimmer’s offensive coordinator is Norv Turner.

But Garrett liked what he saw: “I think there were a lot of positive things on the defensive side of the ball throughout the game.”

With Orlando Scandrick out for the season the Cowboys need Claiborne to stay healthy and play a big role this season.

Both teams, perhaps, could make that claim. Typical of the silliness that is the NFL preseason, the teams were a combined 0 for 21 on third downs.

The part that mattered, as it turned out, boiled down to the opening 25 minutes. Five Cowboys possessions, two touchdowns.

All that’s left now of the Cowboys’ summer is Thursday night’s exhibition grunt-fest with the Houston Texans — the final preseason game or, as NFL protocol dictates, The Game That the Regulars Don’t Play.

Saturday night was the Dress Rehearsal.

There’s a ritual amongst theater types, we are told, where the director assesses a rehearsing show’s progress.

“We have a show,” the director announces at the appropriate point.

The Cowboys have a show. The regular season starts in two weeks.

The Dallas Cowboys showed signs of life in their third preseason game despite falling to Minnesota 28-14 on Saturday night at AT&T Stadium.

Gil LeBreton

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Twitter: @gilebreton

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