Stars and starters sit out, Cowboys beat Cardinals 20-18
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By BARRY WILNER
CANTON, Ohio (AP) 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 Thursday 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 on Saturday night.
So the team will be off Friday, practice in Cleveland on Saturday, then tour the hall before the evening ceremonies.
"This is a great experience not only for Jerry and the Jones family," Garrett said, "but for the entire Dallas Cowboys family. We all take ownership in his induction."
Garrett 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 said. "There's nothing like putting on a uniform and going on a real football field and playing versus an opponent."
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 defense on those first couple of drives," Garrett said. "Blown assignments on a big third-down conversion, and it wasn't physical enough. It wasn't aggressive enough."
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 backup running backs Kerwynn Williams and Andre Ellington, who both scored on short runs.
"It was great to see the offense 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 RB 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.
TURF'S UP: At least the turf held up - unlike a year ago, when the game was canceled for safety reasons. The new field passed NFL operations directors' approval, and the footing was steady all night.
PREGAME INTROS: Jones drew the loudest cheers - no surprise considering the overwhelmingly pro-Cowboys crowd of 21,126 at the renovated Hall of Fame Stadium - in pregame introductions of the seven men who will be inducted into the shrine Saturday night.
Jones, Terrell Davis, Kurt Warner, Kenny Easley, LaDainian Tomlinson, Jason Taylor and Morten Andersen walked along midfield between the competing teams, often shaking hands with current players.
Hall of Famer Jackie Smith, who played tight end for both the Cowboys and Cardinals, performed a rousing national anthem.
TAKE A TABLET: Referee Jerome Boger was the first to use a Microsoft Surface tablet to handle replay reviews under a new NFL system. Final say on calls is being made by the officiating staff in New York, in consultation with the referee.
Dallas challenged a down-by-contact call in the third quarter that negated a Cardinals fumble. The verdict came quickly and the call was confirmed.
GO FOR 2: Arizona kicked the extra point after its second touchdown, but Dallas lined up illegally. So the half-the-distance penalty brought the ball inside the 2-yard line. Gabbert threw incomplete, but another flag was thrown for interference. Then Gabbert sneaked in from about the 1 to make it 15-0.
UP NEXT: Dallas hosts Indianapolis in the first full week of preseason games on Aug. 19. Arizona hosts Chicago that night.
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Updated August 4, 2017