ARLINGTON, Texas -- Felix Jones got the Dallas Cowboys away from their goal line and, 13 plays later, into the opposing end zone. Marion Barber did most of the hard work in between.
No wonder the Cowboys are so excited about their 1-2 punch in the backfield.
Dallas rode Jones and Barber for most of a 94-yard touchdown drive, the highlight series during the first-half battle between the first-team units in a preseason game against the San Francisco 49ers on Saturday night. The 49ers won the battle of the backups in the second half, winning 20-13 on a 9-yard touchdown run by Kory Sheets with 33 seconds left.
The Cowboys (1-2) outplayed the 49ers (3-0) when the starters were in, with Tony Romo getting the offense into scoring position on three of four drives, but led only 10-3 at halftime.
Shaun Hill and the 49ers sure could've used Michael Crabtree.
Playing in the hometown of their holdout wideout, the 49ers had only 36 yards over their first three drives. They even used their version of the Wildcat formation twice to try getting something going, with little success. On their final drive of the half, Hill finally completed some passes to a receiver -- three to Arnaz Battle -- and got a 42-yard field goal in the closing seconds of the second quarter.
"I would have liked for it to have gone a bit smoother than it did," said Hill, who was 9 of 17 for 79 yards. "You can't tell a whole lot right now. I just wish we could have put a few more points on the board. ... There's just certain plays out there that we need to make, but we didn't. They were stopping those drives. Obviously, we have a lot of work yet to be done."
Sheets turned 11 carries into 42 yards and two touchdowns. His first tied the game at 10 in the third quarter, then came the winner in the final minute.
Romo was 11 of 17 for 125 yards and his first big mistake of the preseason, a rushed throw into double coverage that was intercepted. He also probably made a bad choice by throwing to Patrick Crayton on a third-down scramble inside the 10; had Romo kept running, he might have had an easy TD run. Crayton was stopped and the Cowboys settled for a short field goal. They also kicked one on the opening drive, but it was wiped out by a penalty and they ended up punting.
Romo guided Dallas' starters to 195 yards and 13 first downs despite being without starting receiver Roy Williams (shoulder) and reserve receiver Sam Hurd (thigh). Miles Austin caught three passes for 44 yards and undrafted rookie Kevin Ogletree had two catches for 36 yards, both on third downs on the opening drive.
"The guys are working hard and playing at a fast tempo," Romo said. "Mistakes have been kept to a minimum. ... (Austin and Ogletree) know the offense and they're doing a good job."
Jones finished with 23 yards on five carries and Barber 47 yards on 13 attempts. Third-stringer Tashard Choice -- who has dubbed the trio "Smash, Dash and Tash" -- outgained them both, going for 55 yards on eight carries in the second half before leaving with an injury.
The Cowboys' lone TD drive was the kind of series they'd like to repeat this season: 94 yards over 14 plays. There were 11 runs and three passes, all to different receivers, all for first downs.
The series began at the 6 and nearly ended on the first play as the speedy, shifty Jones blew through the middle and into the secondary. After going down on an arm tackle by safety Mark Roman, Jones walked away smiling, then later blamed himself for not picking up his heels enough to get past the final defender.
Then Barber showed why Terrell Owens dubbed him "Marion the Barbarian," bullying his way for 30 yards on seven carries, including a 3-yard gain on fourth-and-1. His last carry reached the 3, then it was Jones' turn again. He slithered between his blockers for his second touchdown in as many games.
"We have to carry this on through the regular season," Jones said. "It's still a learning process for us. We are just going to continue to run hard and get better."
The second football game in the Cowboys' new $1.15 billion home drew 72,171 fans, and didn't feature a single punt that hit the overhead video boards that have been such a source of attention that the league issued a ruling about how to handle such a situation.
Well, those who showed up early might've seen San Francisco punter Andy Lee reach the 90-foot-high board solidly once in pregame warmups.
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