Starters Shine In Cowboys Preseason Meeting

ARLINGTON - The Cowboys first-team offense was without two stars and yet kept pace with their defensive counterparts in a tune-up against the Vikings.

The Dallas Cowboys may have fallen 28-14 to the Vikings at AT&T Stadium, but the first team showed Saturday they were ready for the games that count.

Quarterback Tony Romo completed five passes on eight attempts for 88 yards and two touchdowns to earn a 139.6 passer rating. Second-round defensive end Randy Gregory got his third preseason sack with the first-teamers, and cornerback Brandon Carr intercepted a Vikings pass. The first team left the game with a 14-10 lead.

"It was good," tight end Jason Witten said. "We knew coming into tonight that we were going to get to play more and really wanted to set our identity of what our football team offensively. I thought we didn't play fast, but we picked it up and put two good drives together."

The Vikings took a 3-0 lead with a 28-yard  Blair Walsh field goal with 1:14 left in the first quarter. The Cowboys came out the next drive and Romo hit receiver Terrence Williams for a 60-yard touchdown to take a 7-3 lead on the first play of the second quarter.

"It was great communication with Tony," Williams said. "I just needed to find him a target to throw the ball to. He did a great job in taking his drops and finding me. The biggest thing is to stay friendly with the quarterback, and I just ran through the ball and scored."

 But then came a special-teams error that's been all to common in this Dallas preseason as the Cowboys allowed a kick return for a score to give Minnesota a 10-7 lead.

"We didn't get the job done," said Garrett. "We didn't run well enough. We didn't hem them in. We didn't tackle them, and that's a big play in the ball game. We had just made the big play, and then to kick the ball off, for them to be able to answer it with that big play, that certainly hurt us."

The Cowboys a couple series later took a 14-10 lead when Romo found undrafted rookie receiver Lucky Whitehead for an eight-yard touchdown on first-and-goal from the Minnesota 8-yard line.

""It was good for those guys to get some work tonight," 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."

Minnesota added a 45-yard field goal with 1:05 left before halftime to trim the Cowboys lead to just one point.

The Cowboys backups on defense gave up a three-yard touchdown run by Dominique Williams, and then allowed a two-point conversion to give the Vikings a 21-14 lead in the third quarter. In the fourth, Minnesota scored a seven-yard touchdown rush to extend the Vikings' margin to 28-14.

Darren McFadden led all Dallas running backs with four carries for 37 yards, while Joe Randle carried the ball six times for 15 yards. Lance Dunbar had one carry for one yard.

Fullback Tyler Clutts and Whitehead led Cowboys receivers with two catches; Clutts for 20 yards, Whitehead for 13. Receiver Cole Beasley caught a screen pass for six yards (while also playing ahead of Lucky as the punt returner), and tight end Gavin Escobar had a five-yard catch.

  Lucky Whitehead #13 of the Dallas Cowboys celebrates after scoring a touchdown against the Minnesota Vikings in the second quarter on August 29, 2015 in Arlington, Texas.  (Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images)

The Cowboys defense compiled an interception by cornerback Brandon Carr, and linebacker Jasper Brinkley (a veteran seemingly on the bubble) also recorded a sack. Carr led the team with three tackles as did defensive tackle Davon Coleman and safety Barry Church. 

Dallas' defense came away feeling good about its work at all three levels, featuring rookie pass-rusher Randy Gregory upfront, Sean Lee fully healthy at linebacker and Mo Claiborne exhibiting confidence as a starting corner in place of Orlando Scandrick. Meanwhile, speaking of injuries, Dallas accomplished these positive things without arguably its two best players, guard Zack Martin and receiver Dez Bryant, held out for precautionary reasons.

And really, the only injury issue of note comes from Romo, who has sustained a re-appearance of that painful stye in his eye. “I am sure we’ll be back to an ophthalmologist this week,” Romo said while wearing a bandage over his eye during his postgame interview session "so that (under) all these bright lights (the stye doesn't) horrify you guys again.''

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