DENVER -- Dallas’ first-team offense couldn’t muster much scoring. Its defense didn’t slow down quarterback Jay Cutler and the Denver Broncos.
Perhaps even more frustrating for the Cowboys were the penalties they committed that kept them out of sync in a 23-13 loss to the Broncos on Saturday night.
“I though the effort was good. The execution wasn’t,” Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo said. “Bad penalties hurt us. I was talking to (coach) Wade (Phillips) and we were talking about how it’s like a turnover. We have to stop it. We overcame them a little bit. But they would catch up to us eventually.”
Dallas was penalized nine times for 78 yards, including three that stymied its opening drive.
Right tackle Marc Colombo was called for unnecessary roughness, left tackle Flozell Adams was whistled for a false start and the Cowboys were caught with 12 men on the field.
The Cowboys defenders weren’t immune from those errors, either. Linebacker Bradie James committed an unnecessary roughness penalty on third-and-16 that extended Denver’s second drive of the game—one that ended in a touchdown.
A frustrated Adam Jones had a 24-yard punt return, but he spiked the ball after being tackled by punter Sam Paulescu, drawing a flag.
“We just couldn’t put anything together,” tight end Jason Witten said. “We’re putting ourselves in bad situations. Just a lot of little things are holding us back. No one can overcome making a lot of mistakes. We just need to start staying out of these situations.”
Dallas’ starters both on offense and defense looked sharp in the limited action they saw in their preseason opener last week against San Diego.
That wasn’t the case against the Broncos.
Romo, who went 6-for-9 for 33 yards and no TDs, did not lead the Cowboys to any points in his two drives. Dallas (0-2) had just 34 yards rushing by halftime and 70 for the game.
“We had opportunities and we didn’t take advantage of them,” Phillips said. “We moved the ball and then there was a penalty, and that hurt us. Those kind of things hurt us. But I think we’re going to be all right.”
Denver opened the game with a nine-play, 65-yard drive that ended in Andre Hall’s 1-yard touchdown run.
Cutler, who hit on his first 12 passes, made it 14-0 with a 3-yard scoring pass to Brandon Marshall. Denver’s third-year quarterback was 16-of-20 for 178 yards.
The Broncos and the Cowboys became familiar with each other as the teams had four joint workouts in Colorado leading up to the game.
“We practiced with Denver all week and we did well,” James said. “They changed up their whole game plan. That is good on their part.”
Backup quarterback Brad Johnson, who struggled last week against San Diego, was 9-of-12 for 114 yards. He connected with Miles Austin for Dallas’ only touchdown—a 5-yard pass late in the first half.
“I threw the ball well today and had a good camp this week,” Johnson said.
Austin, who has seven receptions for 106 yards in the preseason, didn’t play in the second half because of a right knee injury.