CANTON, Ohio — Playing in the Hall of Fame game offers some benefits, even though most teams could do without five exhibition matches and an extra chance for key guys to get hurt.
For the Dallas Cowboys, their 24-20 victory Sunday night over Miami was all about the kids.
And for the Dolphins, it was a sloppy mess, not nearly as close as the final score.
Here are five reasons the Cowboys left Fawcett Stadium with reasons to smile, and the Dolphins wore worried looks:
1. YOUTH SHALL BE SERVED: Although a few Dallas regulars got onto the field for some snaps, the night was all about getting a look at dozens of untested players. Among those who stood out while Tony Romo, DeMarcus Ware, Jason Witten and Sean Lee looked on from the sideline were rookie linebacker Devonte Holloman; inexperienced running backs Phillip Tanner and Lance Dunbar, plus rookies Joseph Randle and Kendial Lawrence; and rookie linebacker Taylor Reed.
“Any time you can give young players an extra chance to play in a game, they grow,” Garrett said. “With an extra preseason game, it makes sense to give those young guys an opportunity to play.”
Holloman, a sixth-round pick from South Carolina, was perfectly situated when rookie Chad Bumphis had Matt Moore’s pass go off his hands in the second quarter. Holloman sped down the left sideline for a 75-yard score.
Tanner did the bulk of the early work and finished with 59 yards rushing and a touchdown. Joseph Randle handled the late duty and had 70 yards. Dunbar added 22 on just four carries as Dallas piled up 170 yards rushing even with top running back DeMarco Murray idle.
“We’re trying to get an identity as a group,” Tanner said. “We had ‘Coach’ DeMarco on the sideline telling us to just go out and play.”
2. MIAMI MISTAKES: This was the Miami Unsound Machine until very late in the game. A botched handoff from starting quarterback Ryan Tannehill to Lamar Miller on the team’s first offensive play set up Tanner’s TD. Then Bumphis, who otherwise had a strong game with five catches for 85 yards, misplayed Moore’s pass and Holloman took it the other way. Those were the only turnovers.
And when the Dolphins had a shot in the final minutes, they allowed a 32-yard completion from Alex Tanney to Jared Green, leading to Lawrence’s 7-yard TD spurt.
“We talked a lot about taking the ball away, we’ve talked a lot about ball security, and we’ve spent a lot of practice time,” coach Joe Philbin said, “but it didn’t show up on the field tonight.”
3. COMMUNICATING IN BIG D: Even though the Cowboys are converting to a 4-3 alignment under new defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin, things looked pretty smooth for most of the game.
Even though offensive coordinator Bill Callahan is calling plays now instead of head coach Jason Garrett, well, things looked pretty smooth for most of the game.
“I thought we handled the mechanics of the game real well,” Garrett said.
4. HALL OF FAME INSPIRATION: The Cowboys wanted to show their best stuff — at least as much as they could with so few veterans playing — in front of former offensive lineman Larry Allen and former coach Bill Parcells, who were inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame on Saturday.
Sure, Parcells also ran the front office for the Dolphins for a short time, but his connection with the Cowboys as an on-field boss was much stronger.
5. CANTON IS NOT A GOOD PLACE FOR DOLPHINS: Miami is now 0-4 in the Hall of Fame game, also having lost in 1978 to Philadelphia, 2001 to St. Louis, and 2005 to Chicago. But here’s something for Dolphins fans to cherish: The team finished with a winning record in all of those seasons.
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