CANTON, Ohio — The Dallas Cowboys opened up their 2021 preseason with a 16-3 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers in the Hall of Fame Game.
Cowboys rookie linebacker Micah Parsons made his Dallas Cowboys debut, and created a turnover on his sixth play with a star on his helmet.
Parsons showed he’s capable of paying immediate dividends after being chosen with the 12th pick in the NFL Draft, finding himself in the right place at the right time, as a Steelers fumble fell right at his feet, and he pounced on it, to give the Cowboys offense good field position.
“It felt good,” Parsons said of his first NFL game. “It was bittersweet that I didn’t get to play a lot. I felt like it was a good experience to get my feet wet and get a feel for the game. I made some mistakes; there were some good things. I am just going to build off of it.”
The Cowboys defense showed some real growth, holding the Steelers scoreless through the first half. Parsons led the way with three tackles during his portion of play. Rookie cornerback Nahshon Wright also had three first half tackles. Maurice Canady had a nice first half, making a pair of tackles, and showing the ability to be around the football with regularity.
The Cowboys used Garrett Gilbert to start the game at quarterback, and ran him out there with Tony Pollard in the backfield.
Quarterback Dak Prescott did not make the trip, and Ezekiel Elliott did not play. A handful of Cowboys expected starters saw some time – right tackle La’el Collins, left guard Connor Williams, and center Tyler Biadasz started the game, alongside Connor McGovern and Ty Nsekhe.
“It felt great,” Collins said of being back on the field, after he missed the entirety of the 2020 season due to injury. “It’s been over year and it’s been a long process to get here. It felt good to be out there on that field with my team today.”
Wide receiver Michael Gallup played a few snaps to open the game, as well. Cedrick Wilson and Noah Brown started at the other two wide receiver spots.
Dallas drove inside the ten, but then Gilbert took a sack on 2nd down, setting up 3rd & long. Gilbert was under duress on third down, and misfired at the goal line, leading to a Hunter Niswander 29-yard field goal, to give the Cowboys an early 3-0 lead.
Gilbert showed some solid capabilities on the second Dallas possession, hitting Cedrick Wilson on a couple throws, including one that went for 21 yards. He also hooked up with Sewo Olonilua for a 17-yard completion. And Dallas used some promising work from their offensive line, to open some holes for Rico Dowdle, as they moved inside the Steelers red zone.
Niswander would finish the drive with a missed 29-yard field goal, in unattractive fashion. Niswander is not a kicker – he’s a punter who was thrust into kicking duties for this one game.
“For starters, we have to finish drives,” Gilbert said. “We did good on third downs, up until we got into the red zone. Both times we got down into the red zone, on third down, we stalled out. That’s on me as the quarterback. I have to keep us going and find a way to make a play.”
Gilbert finished 9-13, for 104 yards. He did not throw a touchdown or an interception. He took two sacks.
Cooper Rush took over for the Cowboys’ third drive of the game, and completed four of his first five passes, including a 20-yard strike to Malik Turner on 4th and 15. But Turner quickly fumbled the ball after he hauled in the first down catch, and the Steelers pounced on it, as Antoine Brooks, Jr. returned it for 15 yards.
Turner did respond to the error, by making four catches on the night for 47 yards, and showing the ability to make some tough catches in traffic.
Rush finished the night 8-13, for 70 yards.
Ben DiNucci took over at quarterback for the second half, and the Cowboys offense struggled to move the football. A three-and-out to start the half netted -5 yards and a punt. The following drive ended with an interception, on the third play of the series.
DiNucci’s best drive came late in the 3rd quarter, when he led a 6-play, 44-yard drive that featured a 36-yard connection with Aaron Parker. But the drive would ultimately end with a punt, after the Cowboys stalled at the Pittsburgh 40.
Dallas starts their four-game preseason at 0-1. They are next in action against the Arizona Cardinals on Friday, Aug. 13 at 9 p.m.