Again, that’s not necessarily a surprise given the young players involved, but eliminating mistakes like this is still critical for a team that led the league in penalties last season, winning a total of 14 in its play -off loss to San Francisco last January. A match that, coincidence or not, was also whistled by Alex Kemp.
Perhaps the brightest spots in this one were the Cowboys’ offense on offense and their offensive defense on the far side of the ball. Dallas averaged 5.0 yards per carry with Malik Davis leading with 51 yards on eight attempts, a 6.4 average. Meanwhile, the Cowboys allowed only 1.8 yards per carry, and no Denver won more than 20 yards in the game.
Behind the center, last year’s second quarterback, Cooper Rush, got the start and hoped to show the coaching staff that he deserved to keep the job. After this one, however, the battle with Will Grier to see who will support Dak Prescott will be more intense than ever. Rush entered the third quarter, completing 12 of his 20 passes for just 84 yards with no touchdowns and one interception for a disappointing 48.8 passer rating.
With Grier out of the lineup due to injury, Ben DiNucci did passing duties the rest of the way, completing 9 of 16 for 112 yards with one touchdown and a 99.0 rating. Brandon Smith had only one catch, but it went over 40 yards, leading the Cowboys to receiving yards.
First round draft pick Tyler Smith got his first taste of NFL game action and looked impressive at times. As would be expected with any debutant debut, he had his fair share of miscues, including a couple of penalties, but his strength came to full effect when he tore up his defender several times.
Neither attack could do much in the beginning as both teams went three-and-out on their first two possessions. The Cowboys offense finally made some headway on their third attempt, thanks to an 18-yard finish for Dennis Houston that brought Dallas across midfield.
And they hit the home side’s 38, but in fourth and second, instead of giving one of the two kickers vying for a spot on the roster a shot, head coach Mike McCarthy decided to go for it. Under heavy pressure in the middle, Rush’s pass on Jalen Tolbert was picked, ending the drive.
Not long after, Denver found itself in a similar situation, facing a fourth-and-2 on the Cowboys’ 29-yard line. But Dante Fowler burst through the line from his right defensive end position and pressured quarterback Josh Johnson, who threw the ball incomplete.
The second frame started when the Cowboys again failed to convert a fourth and two, this time Tolbert couldn’t hold a pass over the middle. Unfortunately, that gave Denver possession on the 47-yard line in Dallas, and three snaps later, Josh Johnson tied with Brandon Johnson on a 40-yard completion. The Broncos then capped the drive with a raised pass to Seth Williams, who landed with the ball for the first score of the game.
In Denver’s next series, the Dallas defense appeared to have gotten itself off the field after a third and 13 pass attempt was incomplete. But Tarell Basham was called up for pass interference, giving the Broncos a new lease of life. They took advantage and added seven more points after Kendall Hinton jumped over Cowboys cornerback Nahshon Wright to bring in the 24-yard touchdown pass.
Dallas rejoined just before halftime. The Broncos missed a 57-yard field goal as time went on, but Kelvin Joseph was called up for an offside penalty, giving Denver another chance five yards closer. And this time the effort was good, the Broncos went in the bill with a 17-0 lead.
The penalty woes continued where they left off. On their first possession of the second half, the Cowboys decided to go for it on fourth and 1 on the Denver 41-yard line. However, a false start pushed them back five yards and then a 25-yard completion was negated due to a call waiting. With that, Dallas kicked.
When it started to rain on their next run, the Broncos marched from their own 1-yard line all the way down to the Dallas 4. But there, the Cowboys’ defense held out, holding Denver out of the end zone after four tries near the goal line.
DiNucci took over as the Cowboys’ next possession passed into the final frame, sparking the attack. He at least got the team back across midfield, and while this time McCarthy decided to attempt the field goal, Lirim sailed Hajrullahu’s 56m wide attempt just after punter Bryan Anger struggled to handle a wet ball in the hold.
The Cowboys then finally got on the board with just under five minutes to go. Starting at their own 5-yard line, the offense went all the way in 16 plays with rookie Davis rushing three times for 16 yards and bringing in a pass for another nine. DiNucci finished it off with a 12-yard strike on Simi Fehoko for the touchdown, at least Dallas managed to avoid the shutout.