Take away a couple of bad throws by Tony Romo, and the Dallas Cowboys finally resembled the team that everybody expects to see this season.
Including a relieved coach Wade Phillips.
“I feel good about where we are,” Phillips said. “It was one of those games that you needed to turn it on. I think everybody felt that, even the novices that don’t know as much as coaches do. … And I think we did.”
Romo made up for overthrowing Terrell Owens on a certain touchdown and later getting intercepted in the end zone, completing 15 of 19 passes for 166 yards and a TD in the Cowboys’ 23-22 victory over the Houston Texans on Friday night.
The Cowboys, considered Super Bowl contenders by many, had lost their first two preseason games. Romo and Co. were ineffective in two mistake-filled and penalty-plagued drives last week against Denver, after scoring on their only possession against San Diego.
Things went so good against Houston that Romo and T.O., who had four catches for 43 yards, didn’t play after halftime, when the Cowboys already had 266 total yards.
“I thought we were efficient. It was nice to play more than a series or two,” Romo said. “It’s exciting to come out in the first half and move the ball like we did.”
Phillips had planned to play the starters deep into the third quarter, partly so the offense could get its timing down in the passing game.
Texans backup quarterback Sage Rosenfels ran 8 yards for a touchdown with 2:05 left. Instead of a tying extra point, the Texans went for a 2-point conversion. But Jacoby Jones couldn’t handle the pass in the end zone.
Matt Schaub and the Texans’ starters played into the opening minute of the fourth quarter, when Kris Brown kicked his third field goal, a 29-yarder that got the Texans within 20-16. Schaub was 15-of-27 passing for 166 yards with an 11-yard TD to Kevin Walter and proclaimed himself ready for the regular season.
Schaub bounced back after hitting only 2 of 8 passes in the first quarter, when the Texans had only 10 total yards against Dallas’ 3-4 defense—similar to what they will face in their first two regular-season games against Pittsburgh and Baltimore.
“They provided a lot of different looks we don’t see on a day-to-day basis,” said Schaub, who likely won’t play much in the preseason finale. “There are a lot of things to learn from this film.”
Walter’s TD catch midway through the second quarter tied the game at 10, capping an 80-yard drive set up when Romo rolled to his right and slung a sidearm pass that linebacker Zac Diles picked off in the end zone.
In the first quarter, Nick Folk kicked a 48-yard field goal after Romo overthrew a streaking Owens, who was behind the defender and inside the 10 when the ball fell several yards into the end zone.
Dallas played its first game at Texas Stadium since losing to the New York Giants in the NFC divisional playoffs in January. That was a bitter ending to a 13-win season in which the Cowboys had an NFL-record 13 Pro Bowl players, and all of them are back.
Texans receiver Harry Williams was taken off the field on a stretcher with a neck injury after being hit in the head during a collision with teammate Nick Ferguson. They were covering on the ensuing kickoff after Brown kicked a 44-yard field goal to cap the first drive of the game.
Williams’ head was immobilized when he was strapped to the stretcher and taken by ambulance to a hospital. After the game, Texans coach Gary Kubiak said initial reports were good.
“He’s got movement throughout his body,” Kubiak said. “All the feedback I’m getting is that Harry will be fine.”
Williams remained hospitalized and was expected to have surgery this weekend to fuse two vertebrae.
Williams was hurt trying to tackle Isaiah Stanback, who had a 44-yard return to midfield. The Cowboys scored seven plays later when Romo threw a 6-yard TD to Patrick Crayton.
Dallas scored twice in the final two minutes of the first half.
Marion Barber, now the clear No. 1 running back with Julius Jones’ departure in free agency, leaped into the end zone for a 1-yard score. After the Texans punted with 34 seconds left, Romo scrambled for 13 yards, threw 32 yards to Sam Hurd and completed two short passes before Folk’s 41-yard field goal made it 20-10.
Stanback returned the second-half kickoff 32 yards, but was stripped from behind, the fumble recovered by Ferguson. Stanback went to the locker room a few minutes later with a left shoulder injury.
Rookie running back Felix Jones, the Cowboys’ top draft pick, fumbled inside the 10 on the Cowboys’ first possession of the second half after Brad Johnson replaced Romo. The Texans drove 83 yards before Brown kicked a 29-yard field goal.
Still-suspended cornerback Adam “Pacman” Jones made his first start for the Cowboys. He had one tackle, and gave up a 23-yard play to Walter, who reached over the shorter defender to make the catch. He also had an 18-yard punt return.
“Of course I was nervous,” Jones said. “I hadn’t had my number called in over a year. It all worked out.”