SAN DIEGO – Take the good with the bad after two quarters of preseason football – there was a decent amount of both.
Tony Romo didn’t play a snap, but backup Brandon Weeden played admirably in his absence. The Dallas Cowboys injured and inexperienced defense gave up a whopping 221 first-half yards, but produced two goal line stands.
At the end of one half, the Cowboys trailed the Chargers, 10-7.
“I thought there were some good things, and still a lot of areas that we need to improve,” said Cowboys coach Jason Garrett. “I thought we drove the ball fairly well on offense a couple of different times. I think penalties hurt us both offensively and defensively. I thought they drove the ball well against us for the most part — running it and throwing it.”
The expectations were already low, given that most of the Cowboys’ biggest names – Romo, Jason Witten, Dez Bryant, DeMarco Murray and more – were held out of the game altogether. Despite those limitations, Weeden put in a solid performance in his first appearance as a Dallas Cowboy.
Weeden, a free agency acquisition, completed 13-of-17 passes for 107 yards and a touchdown. The touchdown pass was the highlight, as he scrambled to his right, away from pressure and delivered a bullet to James Hanna just before taking a big hit.
“It was good. We made some good plays. The offensive line played well, and we were able to run the ball effectively, which gives us an opportunity to throw effectively,” Weeden said. “We had some good plays and were able to finish it off.”
The start wasn’t the same for the first-string defense, which sat as many as seven potential starters for a variety of reasons – mainly injury. San Diego quarterbacks Philip Rivers and Kellen Clemens didn’t allow a ball to hit the ground, completing seven combined passes for 110 yards against a Dallas secondary that featured just one expected starter.
The Chargers running game did its own damage, as six different ball carriers combined for 111 yards on 20 carries – a first-half average of 5.6 yards per carry.
Despite a forgettable performance for much of the opening periods, the much-maligned defense did conjure up two highlights of its own. Early in the first quarter, the Dallas Cowboys produced a goal line turnover when Justin Durant forced a diving Ryan Matthews to fumble into the end zone, where rookie cornerback Terrance Mitchell recovered for a touchback.
“We had a lot of guys that did not play, but next week we will get a better feel. With the guys we had out there, it felt good, it felt fast,” Garrett said. “They put a drive on us, but that’s going to happen. I felt like we dealt with it great and came up with a turnover at the end.”
The defense perked up once again late into the second quarter, when they forced the Chargers into a short-yardage field goal on the strength of a tackle for loss from fellow rookie Anthony Hitchens.”
RELATED: Dallas Cowboys QB Brandon Weeden gets passing grade on first test
SAN DIEGO – Some players get compared to another guy at their position. Some get compared to other guys around the league.
And some, such as the case with Brandon Weeden, get compared to a guy who doesn’t even have a job.
Maybe that will change over time with one Kyle Orton, but for now he’s referred to simply as the former backup with the Dallas Cowboys – or the guy who decided he didn’t want to play for the Cowboys anymore, so he held out long enough to force the club to cut him.
Either way, his absence opened the door for Weeden, whose second chance in the NFL took place Thursday night in San Diego.
Without a doubt, Weeden passed his first test. Maybe not with flying colors since he only led the offense to one touchdown, but he set his own goals before the game, which were to function within the offense, limit the pre-snap penalties, move the chains and, of course, punch it in when the Cowboys offense got close to scoring.
And for the most part, that’s what Weeden was able to do.
From the start, you could tell Weeden came out with something to prove. And why wouldn’t he? He’s a former first-round pick who was cut after two seasons. So in his first true gameday test, there seemed to be even more zip on his balls over the middle.
One of them surprised Dwayne Harris it seemed because he barely got his hands on a pass that appeared to be on point. Weeden’s throws to Cole Beasley in the flat and to Terrance Williams over the middle were sharp and crisp.
Again, arm strength has never been an issue with Weeden, who had never played behind a line with three first-round picks like he did on the Dallas Cowboys first drive.