Cowboys 22, Broncos 12
IRVING, Texas (AP) _ A reassuring game for Troy Aikman, Emmitt Smith and the Dallas Cowboys couldn’t have been more discouraging for Bubby Brister and the Denver Broncos.
Dallas first-team offense rebounded from three poor games by scoring on four of their first five drives of what turned into a 22-12 exhibition victory Sunday night. It was the first preseason win for Cowboys coach Chan Gailey, who had been 0-8 over two summers.
Brister and the Broncos starters played until midway through the third quarter, but they couldn’t sustain a drive, not even against Dallas’ second-team defense.
The Broncos (2-2) failed to convert a third down until Brister’s ninth drive, only to have him throw an interception two downs later on what proved to be his final play. His other possessions ended in six punts, a safety caused by a shotgun snap going off Brister’s fingertips and a failed fourth-down try.
Brister was 14-of-23 for 127 yards, but he wasn’t even that sharp. Four of his misses were swatted and several more were well overthrown. His longest pass, a 37-yarder to Terrell Davis, started as a short toss.
The Cowboys, whose 0-3 preseason start had many of the same offensive doldrums as their 2-4 skid to end last season, were as impressive as Denver was bad.
Dallas got 10 points from their starters in each of their two quarters, wrapping field goals by Richie Cunningham around touchdowns by Smith and rookie Wane McGarity. Each TD drive covered more than 60 yards in just three plays.
Smith, who proved last year he has plenty left in his 30-year-old legs, showed a rare burst of speed on his 29-yard score. After punishing blocks by Larry Allen and Daryl Johnston opened a hole on a left-side sweep, Smith spun off safety Eric Brown and raced into the end zone.
McGarity cruised to his touchdown with his right hand in the air and his index finger raised after turning a short bullet from Aikman into an uncontested 41-yard score.
Veteran cornerback Ray Crockett bounced off McGarity as the ball arrived, then was left on his knees with his hands on his head in disgust, knowing he had no safety help because they had been blitzing.
McGarity was among nine receivers Aikman used as he went 12-of-20 for 207 yards. His only non-scoring drive was when a pass deflected by Eric Bjornson was intercepted by Denver linebacker Bill Romanowski.
Aikman’s second-longest pass was his first hookup with free agent signee Raghib Ismail, who missed the first three games with a shoulder injury. On his third look to Ismail, Aikman hit the speedster in stride down the right sideline for a 33-yard gain on second-and-16.
The Broncos made things hard on themselves in the first half by committing seven penalties for 80 yards. They even lost their challenge of a fourth-down run by Davis falling inches short.
Denver finally scored with 9:49 left to play when Brian Griese hit Travis McGriff for a 35-yard touchdown. The Broncos went for 2 but were stopped on a running play.
With 1:08 to go, Griese capped an 80-yard drive with a 1-yard touchdown pass to Byron Chamberlain. Another 2-point try failed on a bounced pass.
The Cowboys’ only second-half points came on Brister’s botched snap. He recovered the ball in the end zone and was touched by rookie linebacker Dat Nguyen, who made his mark at Texas A&M by seemingly always being in the right place at the right time.
Another Dallas rookie making a second-half impression was undrafted cornerback Duane Hawthorne, who intercepted Brister’s final pass. Hawthorne has taken advantage of the opportunity created by injuries to Deion Sanders and Kevin Smith, two would-be starters who are doubtful for the season opener.
Cunningham, whose first-half field goals were from 40 and 36 yards, missed a 32-yarder in the second half.
The only bad news for the Cowboys was the sprained left knee of running back Tarik Smith, who had 27 yards on six carries late in the first half. He sat out the final two quarters.