CANTON, Ohio (AP) – The Pittsburgh Steelers followed a stumbling first half with a strong final 30 minutes to defeat the Dallas Cowboys 16: 3 in the first NFL preseason game in two years on Thursday evening.
Matthew Sexton’s 36-yard punt return early in the third quarter gave the Steelers a jump start, and the Cowboys never challenged again after that.
Last season’s exhibition games were canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Perhaps the enthusiastic audience was an indication that even with a game between teams with few regular players, the hunger for professional football has not diminished.
Or maybe it was simply because two of the league’s most popular franchises were on the field in the Hall of Fame game, regardless of how many backups were in use.
“Just to be in a stadium full of fans, the energy they provided,” said Steelers manager Mike Tomlin. “We were without it for almost a year.”
Not unexpectedly at the start of the preseason, the game was characterized by spotty attacks and special teams – until Sexton got through.
“Sexton had a big punt return, I thought that ignited us,” added Tomlin. “That was the stepping stone for us to move forward.”
Both sides lacked timing with the ball, which helped any defense.
Pittsburgh blocked a field goal attempt by Hunter Niswander and Steeler’s placekicker Sam Sloman missed from 49 yards and missed an extra point. Niswander also missed from 52 meters and the first half ended 3-0 thanks to Niswander’s 29 meters.
Sexton’s turnaround resulted in a 4-yard scoring run by the well-traveled running back Kalen Ballage, now with his fourth team in as many years. Sloman made amends with a 48-yard field goal after a 26-yard interception return from Donovan Stiner.
Dallas left 16 key players at their California training base but still looked superior to Pittsburgh in the first half. Not so after half time.
“This is more about building with what we’ve achieved,” said Cowboys trainer Mike McCarthy. “There is definitely a lot to do. We need to play better complementary football …
“The (defensive) operation for the first time, I felt good. We have a lot more to offer. “
The Steelers briefly took advantage of regulars like recipients Chase Claypool and Diontae Johnson, linebacker Alex Highsmith and cornerback Cameron Sutton. Linebacker Micah Parsons, the Cowboys’ first-round draft pick, saw some action, as did right tackle La’el Collins.
“It felt great,” said Collins, who missed last season with a hip injury. “It’s been over a year and it has been a long process to get here. It felt good to be in this field with my team today. “
But this was a night to look at the back of the list. Both defenses were solid enough, with Pittsburgh’s much-touted pass frenzy putting a lot of pressure on the Dallas QBs. Dwayne Haskins, looking for a job in Washington after a flop, was quarterback for the Steelers most of the night, though it was holdover Josh Dobbs who hooked up Tyler Simmons with a 5-yard touchdown pass to put him away.
Nineteen of the 20 living inductees into the hall were presented before the game. Only the former Pittsburgh security troupe Polamalu, who tested positive for COVID-19 and whose participation this weekend is uncertain, was not there.
Former trainer Bill Cowher, guard Alan Faneca and security guard Donnie Shell from Pittsburgh were introduced; Coach Jimmy Johnson, wide receiver Drew Pearson and security Cliff Harris from Dallas; Guard Steve Hutchinson, who was outstanding for Minnesota and Seattle; Wide receivers Harold Carmichael from Philadelphia, Isaac Bruce from the Rams and Calvin Johnson from Detroit; Collateral Charles Woodson, a star for Oakland and Green Bay, John Lynch of Tampa Bay and Denver, and Steve Atwater of Denver; former Commissioner Paul Tagliabue; Trainer Tom Flores, who won two Super Bowls with the Raiders; tackle Chicago’s Jimbo Covert; Edgerrin James walking back from Indianapolis; and a quarterback named Peyton. Peyton Manning of the Colts and Broncos, of course.
The cowboys could be the self-proclaimed America’s team, but not if they invade northeast Ohio. Sure, this is Brown’s territory, but it’s also only a two-hour drive from Pittsburgh.
So the Hall of Fame stadium was filled with black and gold, with a decent touch of blue and white for the cowboys.
The loudest cheers from the 20,113 spectators were of course reserved for Cowher, Shell and Faneca, the former Steelers stars.
Pittsburgh WR Chase Claypool was churned up in a 45-yard jump in the second quarter but walked away alone. Tomlin said he was fine.
However, Ballage suffered a lower body injury that requires further investigation.
Dallas fought Isaac Alarcon in the third period.
Dallas is playing in Arizona next Friday night.
Pittsburgh will face the Eagles in Philadelphia next Thursday evening.
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