GLENDALE, Ariz. – The original thought was to say, “Thank God there’s only two more of these.” However, for a preseason game, it was actually entertaining, especially at the end.
Yes, for fans paying full freight, it’s an evening spent not seeing Kyler Murray or DeAndre Hopkins or Chandler Jones or Budda Baker or Dak Prescott or Ezekiel Elliott or ... well, you get the picture.
Still, they didn’t seem to care, especially after a season in which State Farm Stadium was mostly a ghost town for games. That was also true for Cowboys fans, who you’d think might have had something better to do than be out in full force in Arizona. That became evident by the roar when the Cowboys scored a touchdown to go ahead with 9:36 remaining in the game.
As starting quarterback Colt McCoy said afterward, “I thought we might have to go to a silent count.”
For both teams, it was clear everyone on the field took it seriously. As McCoy concluded, “Everyone was engaged. This is important for a lot of guys. It was a lot of fun.”
It was good for Cardinals fans to see rookie receiver Rondale Moore used in a variety of ways on quick passes and jet sweeps.
McCoy said, “He gets better every day. He’s picked things up quicker than a lot of guys I’ve been around.”
Defensive coordinator Vance Joseph even unveiled the three-inside linebacker look we have seen in training camp with Zaven Collins, Isaiah Simmons and Jordan Hicks together and Simmons aligned on the outside.
“It was more than I thought it would be,” Collins said of his first taste of NFL action. “I felt comfortable in our defense. There was great communication between the three of us.”
We saw Chris Streveler, who replaced McCoy with 6:18 to play in the second quarter, execute a quarterback draw on third-and-3 from the Dallas 29 and gain 23 yards. It would have been nice to see that in the final game of the 2020 regular season when Streveler replaced an injured Murray.
Even better was the next play, when running back Eno Benjamin, who was inactive for all 16 games as a rookie last season, took a handoff to the left and ran untouched into the end zone for a touchdown and a 10-3 Cardinals lead after Matt Prater’s extra point.
The Cardinals had taken over at the Cowboys 36 after rookie linebacker Victor Dimukeje recovered a fumble forced by cornerback Daryl Worley.
Earlier, on Benjamin’s first touch as a pro, he returned a kickoff 35 yards. Then, early in the third quarter, he burst through a hole to the left and rambled 38 yards to the Dallas 21 and seven plays later Prater’s 28-yard field goal gave the Cardinals a 13-6 lead.
“We know what he can do with the ball in his hands,” head coach Kliff Kingsbury said of Benjamin, who echoed how “fun” it was. He added, “I got my feet under myself. I was glad to be back. Everything about tonight was great.”
Following that score, backup punter Tyler Newsome bombed the kickoff to the back of the end zone. Even though Prater did well on kickoffs, it wouldn’t be shocking if the Cardinals tried to keep Newsome around on the practice squad, which is expected to again be expanded to 16 players.
With defensive tackle Leki Fotu on the reserve/COVID-19 list, the Cardinals had just seven defensive linemen available, and that included the three players -– Josh Mauro (who started), Jack Crawford and Margus Hunt – that had one practice with the team Wednesday after being signed later Tuesday.
What sent Cardinals fans home happy, of course, was the ending. Trailing 19-16, the defense stopped the Cowboys and the Cardinals took over at their own 31. Recently signed receiver Greg Dortch made an outstanding 20-yard catch on second-and-15 to move the ball to the Dallas 23-yard line. With there being no overtimes now in preseason games, Kingsbury opted to go for a first down on fourth-and-12, but Dortch was called for a false start.
Prater was then summoned for a 48-yard field goal that tied the game. The defense came up with another stop and again the Cardinals started at their 31, this time with 51 seconds remaining, but with all three of their timeouts. Streveler ran for 13 of his 55 yards on first down and that was followed by 12 yards on two passes to JoJo Ward and an 8-yard run by Tavien Feaster.
An encroachment penalty on Dallas defensive tackle Quinton Bohanna moved the ball another five yards and after a Feaster 2-yard run, Kingsbury called his final timeout with two seconds on the clock. Prater calmly nailed a 47-yard field goal for the 19-16 win on what was his fourth three-pointer of the night.
It was eerie in that Prater, while with the Lions, beat the Cardinals last season in Week 3 with a 39-yard field goal as time expired that was also his fourth of the game.
Asked how confident he is in Prater after the travails with Zane Gonzalez last season, Kingsbury said, “Yeah, he’s been doing that for years. He works hard. We’re all thrilled to have him.”
That put a bow on a successful night exactly 30 days from the season opener.