Stars, starters sit out ‘Hall of Fame’ game

The Associated Press
Barry Wilner

CANTON, Ohio–Now that the Dallas Cowboys have taken care of business in the Hall of Fame game, they’re going to hang around for a couple of days.
Why not? The boss is about to get a gold jacket.
With no stars and few starters on the field last night, the Cowboys edged the Arizona Cardinals 20-18.
The idea, Cowboys’ coach Jason Garrett said, was to get the young players lots of action, win the game, then get ready for owner Jerry Jones’ induction tomorrow night.
So the team will be off today, practice in Cleveland tomorrow, then tour the hall before the evening ceremonies.
“This is a great experience not only for Jerry and the Jones family but for the entire Dallas Cowboys’ family,” said Garrett.
“We all take ownership in his induction.”
Garrett also saw lots of value in playing an extra exhibition game.
“As a player, you learn so much more in game situations than in any other environment,” he reasoned.
“There’s nothing like putting on a uniform and going on a real football field and playing versus an opponent.”
Rookie Sam Irwin-Hill, unlikely to beat out Dallas veteran Dan Bailey for the place-kicking job, made field goals of 23 and 43 yards–the latter providing the winning points in the fourth quarter.
The opening half featured a handful of big plays, with Arizona’s third-string quarterback, Blaine Gabbert, consistently finding open receivers down the middle.
“There were a couple specific plays by the defence on those first couple of drives,” Garrett said.
“Blown assignments on a big third-down conversion, and it wasn’t physical enough,” he noted.
“It wasn’t aggressive enough.”
Dallas’ Kellen Moore, who missed last season with an ankle injury, had some success passing down the sidelines, but his second-quarter interception by Brandon Williams in the end zone ruined a drive.
With the likes of Carson Palmer, Larry Fitzgerald, David Johnson, Patrick Peterson, and Tyrann Mathieu sitting it out, Arizona could be pleased with the work of back-up running backs Kerwynn Williams and Andre Ellington, who both scored on short runs.
“It was great to see the offence move the ball and get touchdowns on those first two drives,” Fitzgerald said.
“O-line, running game, passing the ball, that was impressive and I’m happy for every one of those guys.”
And with Dak Prescott, Ezekiel Elliott, Jason Witten, Sean Lee, and their strong offensive line pretty much inactive, the Cowboys could point to veteran running back Alfred Morris and receivers Brice Butler and Rico Gathers.
Morris showed off a spin move worthy of Elliott on a 25-yard run, Butler had 78 yards on two catches in the first half, and Gathers, a hoops starter at Baylor, made a 26-yard touchdown catch.
Gathers also made a diving reception and slipped a pair of tackles on a 17-yard play early in the third period.
That led to Uzoma Nwachukwu’s 14-yard TD catch from fourth-string rookie Cooper Rush.
The former rebounding standout had three catches for 59 yards.
“He’s gotten so much better,” Garrett said of Gathers, a practice squad player in 2016.
“He has a tremendous willingness to work and has come a long way, but has a long way to go.”
Generally, though, it was a sloppy exercise befitting the lack of star power.
At least the turf held up–unlike a year ago, when the game was cancelled for safety reasons.
The new field passed NFL operations directors’ approval and the footing was steady all night.