Cowboys fall to Chargers 31-17

SAN DIEGO - If first impressions are any indication, the San Diego Chargers should be pleased with rookie Jacob Hester.

The rookie running back scored on a pair of short runs to help the Chargers to a 31-17 preseason win over the Dallas Cowboys on Saturday night.

Hester, the club’s third-round draft pick from LSU, is competing with Darren Sproles to replace Michael Turner as back up to two-time defending NFL rushing champion LaDainian Tomlinson. He made a strong case as he carried the ball 13 times for 49 yards and scored on runs of 1 and 2 yards.

“It felt good,” Hester said. “The first (touchdown) felt good because the (first team) was in there against their (first-team).

Hester had a slow start when he caught a pass in the flat on the Chargers’ third play from scrimmage and was dropped for a 1-yard loss. His first two carries netted three yards before he went up the middle for his first touchdown.

“It was crazy. My first block out there was Zach Thomas,” Hester said. “Once you do that, nothing really worries you anymore. Once you get out there, it’s football.”

Sproles also scored on a 5-yard run, one of the Chargers’ four rushing touchdowns, including three in the first half. Sproles had 5 yards on 7 carries.

Tomlinson, who has a slight strained groin, rarely plays in the preseason and did not suit up. Tomlinson was not scheduled to play before he was hurt late in the week. In his career, Tomlinson has just 14 preseason carries.

San Diego quarterback Philip Rivers played three series and directed the Chargers to a pair of touchdowns. Rivers completed five of six passes for 54 yards and left early in the second quarter with a 14-7 lead.

“We were efficient,” Rivers said. “We didn’t turn it over or have any penalties in the first half. That’s a good sign that you’re not making any silly mistakes in the first preseason game.”

Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo looked sharp in his only series as he lead Dallas to the game’s first touchdown on an 8-play, 54-yard drive. Romo completed all three passes for 33 yards. His 16-yard pass to Patrick Crayton to the 3-yard line set up Deon Anderson’s 2-yard scoring run.

“I’ve been definitely able to see (progress) at training camp and we were able to carry it over from practice to the game,” Romo said.

The game was the Dallas debut of cornerback Adam Jones, signed as a free agent in the offseason. Although he did not start, Jones saw considerable action into the second half of the game.

Jones, who sat out last season after being suspended by NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, was called for a pass interference call in the third quarter that moved the ball to the Cowboys’ 2-yard line, setting up Hester’s 2-yard run.

“It’s preseason, man,” Jones said. “Hopefully, by the last preseason game, I’ll be ready and focused to go. My timing is messed up right now. But I’ll be alright, man.”

The game also was the first for Marion Barber as Dallas’ starting running back. Barber, a Pro Bowl selection last season, gained 24 yards on four carries while also playing one series.

“We didn’t play our first group very long, offensively and defensively,” Dallas coach Wade Phillips said. “That was on purpose. One they looked sharp when they were in there. Two, we needed to look at the rest of the guys.”

Felix Jones, the Cowboys’ first-round draft choice out of Arkansas, carried 6 times for 32 yards.

San Diego also scored on a 1-yard run by Mike Tolbert and on Nate Kaeding’s 53-yard field goal to lead 24-10 at halftime.