ARLINGTON, Texas -- In an attempt to stay "relevant" for the Sept. 7 season opener against the San Francisco 49ers, the Dallas Cowboys sat the majority of their starters and front-line players in Thursday night's preseason final against the Denver Broncos at AT&T Stadium.
A plan to give defensive tackle Henry Melton some reps so he could work on some technique in live action was even scuttled at the last minute. Melton, who missed the first three preseason games with knee and groin injuries, stood on the sidelines along with the team's other stars such as Dez Bryant, Tony Romo and DeMarco Murray.
Although starting cornerback Brandon Carr played two series to continue to sharpen his skills after missing the first two weeks of camp due to the death of his mother, health and rest were the Cowboys primary focus in a 27-3 loss to the Broncos.
And just under that was analyzing the competition for the final roster spots with cutdown day looming on Saturday.
Going winless in the preseason for the fifth time in team and history and the first time since 2000 -- the first of three consecutive 5-11 years under Dave Campo -- was not the lasting image coach Jason Garrett wanted before the 49ers game.
But he is satisfied with what his team accomplished in the preseason and has declared them ready and focused for the season opener.
Consider Carr getting reps on Thursday night a good sign as the team needs him as sharp as possible with cornerback Orlando Scandrick suspended for the first four games of the season and third cornerback Morris Claiborne likely rusty after missing the entire preseason with knee and shoulder injuries.
"It felt good to get a couple of plays under my belt," Carr said. "I feel good going into next week's home opener. Now it's time to polish up the finished product and get ready for next Sunday."
Another bright spot was middle linebacker Rolando McClain, who flashed physicality and quickness during a stint in the first quarter.
It was McClain's third preseason game since coming out of retirement in July to join the Cowboys after sitting out all of last season.
With each outing, he has slowly showed flashes of the potential that made him the ninth overall pick of the Oakland Raiders in 2010. The Cowboys are still deciding whether to start him or rookie Anthony Hitchens at middle linebacker in the opener against the 49ers.
If there was any cause for concern coming out of Thursday's game it was the uninspired play of backup quarterback Brandon Weeden, who began the game one of five passing for 14 yards and an interception before finishing six of 12 for 75 yards and a quarterback rating of 35.1.
As Romo's primary backup, the Cowboys need to be confident that Weeden can come in and win games for them.
Weeden finished the preseason by completing 34 of 57 passes for 388 yards, two touchdowns, two interceptions and a 77.2 passer rating.
"He had that one interception on that naked where the guy came off the outside receiver and made a play on an out route on one of the inside receivers," Garrett said of Weeden's performance. "Sometimes that's hard to see. He missed some throws, but he also made some good throws."
The Cowboys' first three possessions ended with a third-and-14 play incompletion, a third-and-13 incompletion and an interception.
Weeden directed a 14-play, 74-yard scoring drive on the fourth possession.
He completed passes of 26 and 18 yards on the drive that ended with Dan Bailey's 24-yard field goal after Weeden came up short on a third and 13 scramble.
"We had a hard time getting into a rhythm," Weeden said. "The most important thing is we were able to get 4 or 5 yards on some runs and put us in second-and-manageable (plays). It gave us the ability to convert second down instead of third down -- which we didn't do on the first drive. We did some good things with a lot of young guys in there that are playing positions they might not be familiar with. Overall, I thought everyone handled it pretty well. That's one of the difficult parts of this fourth preseason game."
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