ARLINGTON, Texas -- Mercifully, the Dallas Cowboys’ preseason came to an end on Thursday with their 27-3 loss to the Denver Broncos.
For the first time since 2000 -- and fifth time overall -- the Cowboys did not win a preseason game. Of the four previous winless preseasons, the Cowboys finished above .500 just once, making the playoffs in 1998 with a 10-6 record.
The Cowboys enter the Sept. 7 regular-season opener with low outside expectations in part because of their three straight 8-8 finishes and due to a defense that lacks playmakers and will be counting on role players to play in big-time positions.
The Cowboys were outscored 116-60 in the preseason.
Here are some other thoughts on the Cowboys' fourth preseason game:
The Cowboys will go into the San Francisco game with starting defensive tackle Henry Melton and cornerback Morris Claiborne not taking a preseason snap. Melton went through pregame warmups Thursday and was expected to at least see a handful of plays after missing the last two preseason games with a groin injury. Claiborne, who will start with Orlando Scandrick missing the first four games because of a suspension, has not played in a preseason game the last two seasons. A shoulder injury limited his work the last two-plus weeks of the preseason. Cornerback Brandon Carr saw less than 30 snaps in the preseason, including only 12 Thursday, after missing the first two exhibition games following the death of his mother.
Justin Durant did not start, so the Cowboys used Rolando McClain at middle linebacker for the first two series. McClain was active in his short time on the field, making three tackles. The Cowboys have attempted to speed up McClain’s learning curve with this defense and his conditioning but both times they gave him first-team work he was unable to finish practice. Has he done enough in the preseason to be a starter? The Cowboys might have to make a projection here with a linebacker who has not played since Nov. 2012 and retired twice since then.
The Cowboys will go into the season with their most inexperienced backup quarterback since Tony Romo in 2006 in Brandon Weeden. Starting his second preseason game, Weeden completed seven of 13 passes for 83 yards and an interception. His turnover was the result of a forced throw to Devin Street on a roll out that cornerback Tony Carter was able to pick off, and the Broncos scored a touchdown on the ensuing drive. Weeden was able to respond with a field goal drive the next time he had the ball, completing two third-down throws and hitting LaRon Byrd with a 26-yard completion while taking a big hit. On third-and-goal he wisely chose to run the ball instead of forcing a pass, making sure the Cowboys got points.
Ronald Leary started every game at left guard in 2013 and appears to be the frontrunner to hold the job again this season, but he played the first half Thursday. Mackenzy Bernadeau, who was splitting time with Leary in camp, did not play, getting the same treatment as starting linemen Doug Free, Tyron Smith, Travis Frederick and Zack Martin. Leary missed the early part of training camp with a hamstring injury suffered in a conditioning test.