ARLINGTON, TEXAS (AP) - Tony Romo and the Dallas Cowboys are headed to California, hoping a change in scenery _ and climate _ snaps them out of their offensive funk.
If nothing else, the 30-degree drop in temperature could tempt coach Wade Phillips to leave them on the practice field longer.
Sure, it’s only preseason and the starters haven’t been out there much _ just three series led by Romo. They’re also breaking in a new starter at left tackle and injuries have claimed top pick Dez Bryant and most of their tight ends.
The worrisome part for Dallas is that the problems exposed in the first two preseason games look awfully familiar: long drives that approach the goal line but don’t cross it (a bugaboo all last season) and an inability to keep quarterbacks upright (the fatal flaw in their playoff ouster).
“We did some good things, some things we have to work on and get better at,” Romo said following a 17-9 loss to the Oakland Raiders on Thursday night.
Romo’s opening drive sputtered after reaching the 16. He was sacked on two of the next three snaps, making it three sacks for that drive, and needing a 42-yard field goal to salvage any points that series.
Backup Jon Kitna had one possession behind the starting linemen and he was dropped, too, nearly for a safety. He later led drives that reached the 13 and 9; the first ended on downs, the second resulted in a field goal. Dallas later started a drive at the 11 after recovering a botched punt, moved only to the 10 and settled for another field goal.
Romo noted there’s a fine line between trying to work on things and not giving away too many secrets about this season’s offense.
“But at some point, we have to get it in and get better,” he said. “This team is not where we need to be yet. We’ve made some strides, we’ve done some good things, but we have a lot of work and time left to continue to get better. That’s actually exciting from my perspective because we have some things we need to work Oxnard and we will have some time to do it out there.”
Ah, yes, Oxnard and the gentle breeze off the Pacific Ocean.
After two weeks inside the climate-controlled Alamodome in San Antonio, and a week in the Dallas area, where temperatures have consistently cracked 100, the Cowboys left for their occasional West Coast base on Friday. They resume two-a-day workouts Saturday morning and the weeklong forecast shows highs in the 60s.
“We are going to have to layer up just to break a sweat,” linebacker Bradie James said.
The defense and special teams can consider the California trip a reward for how they’ve done so far.
The Cowboys haven’t allowed a point in the first three quarters of either game, and David Buehler is 6 of 7 in his audition to become the placekicker.
Dallas missed a shutout in the Hall of Fame game against Cincinnati when the deep reserves _ mostly guys fighting for jobs on the practice squad _ allowed a fourth-quarter touchdown. A fourth-quarter flop against the Raiders turned another potential shutout into a loss as Oakland scored two touchdowns and a field goal in the final 4:58.
James and fellow inside linebacker Keith Brooking were as fired up for the first home preseason game as they would be for a regular-season opener. Their intensity helped fuel a pair of three-and-outs on Oakland’s first two drives. The first-string nickel unit also returned for a fourth-down stop against the Raiders’ starters.
“You don’t want to get too excited but there is some excitement in the air for what we have been able to accomplish,” James said. “And it only gets harder. … Teams know what we have, but it’s up to us to go out there and execute and make plays. You know, you just gradually get to that point to get to the regular season and that’s all we are doing as far as the first team.”
Buehler can hardly stop smiling. He’s heading to his native turf in Southern California knowing he’s off to a great start in his bid to be both kickoff specialist and placekicker. His kickoffs have remained outstanding, getting touchbacks on all four boots against Oakland.
“I feel good,” Buehler said. “I was confident coming into this preseason and I’m going to put the ball through the uprights.”
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