Rico Gathers hauled in a rebound just like he did 1,134 times in his college basketball career, to record the first touchdown of the Dallas Cowboys preseason, in a 20-18 Dallas win in the Hall of Fame Game in Canton, Ohio Thursday night.
Gathers and Brice Butler were the stars of the first preseason game of the 2017 NFL season, combining for five catches and 137 yards.
Running back Rod Smith also had a very nice night. The converted fullback now playing running back carried 18 times for 64 yards.
The Cowboys defense – featuring a few likely starters in Byron Jones, Jeff Heath, and Anthony Brown – struggled early on. The Cardinals drove the length of the field on consecutive possessions, taking an early 15-0 lead on touchdown runs by Kerwynn Williams and Andre Ellington.
“There were a couple specific plays by the defense on those first couple of drives – blown assignments on a big third down conversion,” Cowboys head coach Jason Garrett said. “And it wasn’t physical enough; it wasn’t aggressive enough; it wasn’t assignment sound.”
But the defense turned things around, allowing only three points for the remainder of the game.
“I felt the defense did a good job coming back, when they had the long drive and had the three-and-out, then they get another drive,” Garrett said. The Cardinals gained 118 yards in the second half.
Butler made a pair of very nice catches down the sideline, totaling 78 yards. Gathers caught three passes for 59 yards, including his 26-yard touchdown grab in the first quarter.
Kellen Moore played the entire first half, completed 12 of 17 passes for 182 yards and a touchdown. He also threw an interception. Before the pick, he briefly could boast a perfect passer rating.
Byron Jones recorded five tackles. Jeff Heath had three. Backup linebacker Joseph Jones led the Cowboys with seven.
“We want the [young] guys to run to the ball, and hit, and know their assignments,” Byron Jones said. “We had a rough time in the beginning of the game. It looks like we’re starting to come together now. Ultimately, we want you to run, hit and make some good tackles. That’s it.”
Cooper Rush played at quarterback for the entire second half, completing 9 of 18 passes for 87 yards and a touchdown. His score came on a pass over the middle to Uzoma Nwachukwu, on a 4th & 3 gamble by the Cowboys. That gave Dallas the lead, 17-15.
The teams exchanged field goals from there to provide the final margin.
The Cowboys next preseason game is Aug. 12 at 8 p.m. CT, against the Los Angeles Rams. Their first home preseason game is Aug. 19 at 6 p.m. CT, against the Indianapolis Colts.