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Jaguars edge Cowboys, 28-23

By Elwyn Henderson

    The Dallas Cowboys began their 2023 preseason schedule at AT&T Stadium in Arlington Saturday against the visiting Jacksonville Jaguars.

     Jacksonville won the coin toss and elected to receive.  Following a touchback Trevor Lawrence brought the Jags offense on to the field for their first possession of the afternoon at the 25 following the kick.

     On the second play from scrimmage a Lawrence pass was played perfectly and intercepted at the Dallas 41 by Montaric Brown, giving Cooper Rush and the Cowboys offense possession for the first time.

     It was a quick three-and-out and following a punt and an illegal block in the back on the return by Jacksonville, Lawrence and his until began their second drive at their 6.

     Lawrence and company struggled again and went three-and-out.  KaVonte Turpin took the punt at his 25 and was hit and fumbled at the 35 and the Jaguars recovered at the Cowboys 43.

     Lawrence came back in at quarterback for the third possession for the visitors.  On a 4th and 3 Lawrence hit Justin Kirk on a 9-yard TD pass with 4:40 left in the first quarter.  The Jags went for 2 on the conversion and Zay Jones grabbed the pass in the end zone and Jacksonville led 8-0.  The drive was 9 plays, 43 yards and took 4:02.

     The Pokes seemed headed for a sure TD in the waning seconds of the first quarter, only to have Rico Dowdle fumble the ball following a 23-yard run at the Jaguars 1.  The defense recovered and the visitors took over at their 1.

     There was no further scoring until Jacksonville got on the board again with 7:41 left in the first half when C. J. Beathard ran into the end zone from 2 yards out, capping a 6-play, 88-yard drive in 2:47 .  They went for 2 once again on the conversion, but a pass intended for Parker Washington was broken up, but the visitors advanced to a commanding 14-0 lead over the ‘Boys.

     Dallas finally got on the board with 13 seconds left in the half when Will Grier hit Jalen Tolbert on a 17-yard TD pass, capping off a 12-play, 63-yard drive that consumed 2:59 off the second quarter clock.  New kicker Brandon Aubrey split the uprights on the PAT, and the Cowboys closed the gap to 14-7.

     After a touchback on the ensuing kickoff and a kneel down by Jacksonville, the half came to an end.

     Dallas took the opening second half kickoff and Grier moved the offense down to the Jag 11 before they were forced to attempt a 29-yard field goal on a 4th and 9.  Aubrey was true on the attempt with 8:34 left in the third quarter and Dallas narrowed the deficit to 14-9.  The drive was 13 plays, 69 yards and took 6:26 off the third quarter clock.

     Jacksonville moved down the field on their first possession of the second half and faced a 4th and 6 from the Dallas 21.  A pass from Nathan Rourke fell incomplete but the Cowboys were called for defensive holding before the attempt and after a 5-yard penalty the Jaguar drive continued.

     The defense held and forced a 4th and 9 from the 15.  A heavy pass rush resulted in a pass falling incomplete and Beathard and the Dallas offense returned to the and began at their 15 with 3:50 left in the quarter.

 Scoring on a 4-yard run with 13:49 left in the game.  Aubrey missed the extra point, but the Cowboys took their first lead of the game, 16-14.  The drive was 10 plays, 85 yards, and took 5:01.

     Jaksonville stopped the bleeding with 8:53 left in the game when quarterback Nathan Rourke ran into the end zone from the Dallas 4.  Once again, the Jags went for 2 points on the conversion and Rourke hit Oliver Martin for the successful conversion, putting the visitors back on top, 22-16.

     Dallas went back to work from their 25 on their next possession following a touchback.  They were unable to get a sustained drive going and punted the ball away.

     Jacksonville then moved down the field and faced a 3rd down when Rourke somehow avoided a fierce rush and got free, throwing a  yard TD pass to Qadree Ollison with 3:45 left in the game.  A pass for a 2-point conversion fell incomplete, but the game was pretty much over with the good guys trailing 28-16.

     Foyesade Oluokun took the ensuing kickoff at the 2 and returned the ball up to the 45 and the Cowboys went back on the offensive.  After a 21-yard Grier to John Stevens, Grier threw an interception to Christian Braswell on the next pay and the Jags went back on offense at their 27 with 3:36 remaining in the game.

     Devin Harper recovered a Jacksonville fumble with 3:26 remaining at the Jag 26 and Dallas got one more chance to make the game closer.

     The turnover was just what the doctor ordered, as Grier hit John Stephens with 2:16 left in the game for a 15-yard TD.  The extra point by Aubrey was good and the Cowboys closed the gap to 28-23.  The drive was 8 plays, 26 yards and took 1:10.

     Following a touchback on the Aubrey kickoff the Jags began what would be their final drive of the game at their 25.  The picked up one first down after the Cowboys used their final timeout and ran a couple more plays and ran out the clock, preserving the 28-23 win.

     When Coach Mike McCarthy met with the media following the game, the Mirror asked him what his biggest concerns were from what he saw during the game.

     “I think you always go to the basics of football, you know.  We talk about the six fundamentals of Cowboys football and it starts with ball protection, so we did not win the turnover ratio battle.  That’s where it starts, with me, with our team.  The way we practice the first team fundamental drill we do is ball security and taking it away, and protecting it.  That would probably be the main focal point and it’s always going to be a focal point.”

     We also asked the coach if it was any different playing an afternoon preseason game rather than the usual 7 PM preseason game.  

     “It did not (feel any different).  It was actually good.  I think it was good to practice with a 4 PM game because we play in those (in the regular season).  With the sun, and all of those things that will come with a 4 PM game, I feel like we try as hard as coaches to create apractical environment that emulates the game environment.  Playing at 4 o’clock, I think it was great.”

     Dallas will play in Seattle next Saturday night at 9 PM CST in their second preseason game before returning to AT&T Stadium on Saturday night, August 26th for a 7 PM contest against the Las Vegas Raiders to end the preseason schedule.

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