IRVING (AP) — Even after two days of practicing against the Dallas Cowboys’ juiced-up defense, the Denver Broncos looked pretty helpless against them.
The attacking, pressure-seeking front being implemented by new Dallas coach Wade Phillips locked up Denver’s starting offense for two quarters, paving the way for the Cowboys to beat the Broncos 31-20 in a preseason game Saturday night.
Tony Romo had another strong outing guiding the Dallas offense, with Marion Barber III running for two touchdowns and Julius Jones also getting one. The Cowboys were up 24-6 at halftime, when both teams turned things over to backups.
Dallas (2-0) flustered Denver quarterback Jay Cutler into going 7-of-13 for only 58 yards. He failed to convert all five third-down chances, leaving the Broncos (1-1) to settle for two short field goals after drives that started in Cowboys’ territory following turnovers.
Even Cutler’s longest completion, a 21-yarder, was a fluke. Rookie linebacker Anthony Spencer, a defensive end in college, tipped it up and right to tight end Daniel Graham instead of swatting it down.
“We just have to learn from this experience and get back to work,” Cutler said. “We’re going to look at some of the pressure they brought us and see where we can beat it, and see what we can do protection-wise to stop them.”
Running back Travis Henry also had little success, gaining 25 yards on 10 carries and losing a fumble on the Broncos 7. He also lost a yard on second-and-5 from the Dallas 18, getting caught from behind by safety Roy Williams. Then Henry went out with a sprained left knee.
Backup Mike Bell later strained his left hip. The Broncos also lost starting defensive end Ebenezer Ekuban to a strained right Achilles' tendon and backup safety Curome Cox to a strained right shoulder.
These teams practiced against each other twice Wednesday and twice again Thursday. The Cowboys either held back then or figured out the best way into the Broncos’ backfield.
Dallas had Cutler dancing from the start. He was sacked to end Denver’s first drive in three plays, then had a pass deflected at the start of the second drive. After the Broncos were caught holding on the next snap, Henry fumbled. The Cowboys’ second touchdown soon followed.
The only points Dallas starters allowed came on drives that started at the Dallas 37 and 28. Considering the field position, Phillips had to be pleased his guys held Denver to field goals of 33 and 20 yards, both by Jason Elam.
The first of those drives was snuffed by Williams’ terrific play on Henry. The second reached the Dallas 3 on the wacky completion to Graham, but fizzled with two stuffed runs and a goofy third-down play in which Cutler tried to run, saw Spencer bearing down on him and threw to a tackle eligible in the back of the end zone. Chad Mustard made a clumsy attempt at catching it.
“Our fans should like the pressure we put on Jay Cutler,” Cowboys owner Jerry Jones said. “We got him going there in the second quarter.”
Romo was 11-of-18 for 122 yards with an interception. His numbers would’ve been better had backup Miles Austin not botched several passes and made a poor attempt at preventing the pickoff by Dre Bly. Dallas scored on four of Romo’s seven drives, with Martin Gramatica missing a 51-yard field goal on another. Rookie Nick Folk made a 52-yarder.
The anticipated showdown between Terrell Owens and Champ Bailey produced only one play: a 12-yard comebacker on the opening drive. Owens played just two series and didn’t have another ball thrown his way — but he did run 9 yards on an end around.