Steelers use strong 2nd half to beat Cowboys 16-3

Aug 5, 2021, 7:59 AM | Updated: 9:08 pm

CANTON, Ohio (AP) — The Pittsburgh Steelers followed a stumbling first half with a strong final 30 minutes to beat the Dallas Cowboys 16-3 on Thursday night in the first NFL preseason game in two years.

Matthew Sexton’s 36-yard punt return early in the third quarter jump-started the Steelers, and the Cowboys never challenged after it.

Last season’s exhibition games were canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic. So maybe the enthusiastic crowd was an indication that even for a match between teams using few regulars, the hunger for pro football has not faded.

Or maybe it was simply a matter of two of the league’s most popular franchises being on the field in the Hall of Fame game, regardless of how many backups were in action.

“Just being in a stadium full of fans, the energy they provided,” Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said. “We were without that for the good part of a year.”

Not unexpectedly for the kickoff to the preseason, the game was marked by spotty offense and special teams — until Sexton came through.

“Sexton had a big punt return, I thought that ignited us,” Tomlin added. “That was the springboard for us moving forward.”

Both sides lacked timing with the ball, helping each defense.

Pittsburgh blocked a field goal attempt by Hunter Niswander, and Steelers placekicker Sam Sloman missed from 49 yards, as well a botching an extra point. Niswander also missed from 52 yards and the opening half finished 3-0 thanks to Niswander’s 29-yarder.

Sexton’s runback led to a 4-yard scoring run by much-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 by Donovan Stiner.

Dallas left 16 key players at its training base in California, yet in the opening half still looked superior to Pittsburgh. Not so after halftime.

“This is more about building with what we accomplished,” Cowboys coach Mike McCarthy said. “There’s definitely a lot of work to do. We need to play better complementary football …

“The (defensive) operation for the first time out, I felt good about it. We’ve got a lot more to offer.”

The Steelers briefly used such regulars as receivers 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’s been a long process to get here. It felt good to be out there on that field with my team today.”

But this was a night to look at the back end of the roster. Both defenses were solid enough, with Pittsburgh’s vaunted pass rush getting lots of pressure on Dallas QBs. Dwayne Haskins, seeking a job after flopping in Washington, quarterbacked most of the night for the Steelers, though it was holdover Josh Dobbs who connected on a 5-yard touchdown pass to Tyler Simmons to put it away.

INTROS

Nineteen of the 20 living inductees to the hall were introduced before the game. Only former Pittsburgh safety Troy Polamalu, who tested positive for COVID-19 and whose attendance this weekend is uncertain, was not on hand.

Introduced were former coach Bill Cowher, guard Alan Faneca and safety Donnie Shell from Pittsburgh; coach Jimmy Johnson, wide receiver Drew Pearson and safety Cliff Harris from Dallas; guard Steve Hutchinson, who was a standout for Minnesota and Seattle; wide receivers Harold Carmichael of Philadelphia, Isaac Bruce of the Rams, and Calvin Johnson of Detroit; safeties 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; coach Tom Flores, who won two Super Bowls with the Raiders; tackle Jimbo Covert of Chicago; running back Edgerrin James of Indianapolis; and some quarterback named Peyton. Peyton Manning of the Colts and Broncos, of course.

STEELERS NATION

The Cowboys might be the self-proclaimed America’s Team, but not when they invade Northeast Ohio. Sure, this is Browns territory, but it’s also just a two-hour ride from Pittsburgh.

So Hall of Fame Stadium was filled with black and gold, with a decent smattering of blue and white for the Cowboys.

Naturally, the loudest cheers from the crowd of 20,113 were reserved for Cowher, Shell and Faneca, former Steelers stars.

SIDELINED

Pittsburgh WR Chase Claypool was shaken up on a diving 45-yard reception in the second quarter, but walked off by himself. Tomlin said he is fine.

But Ballage sustained a lower body injury that needs further evaluation.

Dallas tackle Isaac Alarcon was helped off the field in the third period.

NEXT UP

Dallas plays at Arizona next Friday night.

Pittsburgh takes on the Eagles at Philadelphia next Thursday night.

___

More AP NFL coverage: https://apnews.com/hub/NFL and https://twitter.com/AP_NFL

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

AP

Portugal's Cristiano Ronaldo plays a ball during his team training session during the World Cup in ...
Associated Press

Ronaldo, Portugal looks to end Morocco’s World Cup run

DOHA, Qatar (AP) — These really are pinch-yourself times for Morocco: A first ever spot in the quarterfinals of a World Cup — the first to take place in the Arab world, no less — and now a meeting with Portugal and its superstar striker, Cristiano Ronaldo. Well, maybe. Because Ronaldo has again managed to […]
1 day ago
A resident wounded after a Russian attack lies inside an ambulance before being taken to a hospital...
Associated Press

AP Week in Pictures: Europe and Africa

Dec. 2 – Dec. 8 A week in which fans celebrated and commiserated as their teams competed in soccer’s World Cup in Qatar, Russian shelling continued in the Donetsk region of Ukraine and the sculpted Apollo’s Chariot Fountain was lifted out of the gardens of the Palace of Versailles for restoration. This photo gallery highlights […]
1 day ago
Las Vegas Raiders head coach Josh McDaniels, left, talks with quarterback Derek Carr during the sec...
Associated Press

Raiders blow 4th double-digit halftime lead in latest loss

INGLEWOOD, Calif. (AP) — A season of painful defeats for the Las Vegas Raiders just got worse. Last month, they lost to a team whose coach was an ESPN analyst six days earlier. And on Thursday night, they allowed the opposing quarterback to direct two touchdown drives in the final four minutes after being picked […]
1 day ago
FILE - New York Mets' Brandon Nimmo bats during the second baseball game of the team's doubleheader...
Associated Press

AP source: Nimmo staying with Mets on $162M, 8-year deal

NEW YORK (AP) — Center fielder Brandon Nimmo is staying with the free-spending New York Mets, agreeing to a $162 million, eight-year contract, according to a person familiar with the deal. The person spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity Thursday night because the agreement is subject to a successful physical and no […]
1 day ago
Denver Nuggets guard Jamal Murray, left, hits a 3-pointer with less than a second left in the NBA b...
Associated Press

Murray’s 3 gives Nuggets 121-120 win over Lillard, Blazers

PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — Jamal Murray’s 3-pointer with 0.9 seconds remaining lifted the Denver Nuggets to a thrilling 121-120 victory over the Portland Trail Blazers on Thursday night. Damian Lillard had 40 points for the Trail Blazers, including a 3-pointer that gave them a one-point lead with 8.8 seconds remaining. Murray then answered with his […]
1 day ago
Utah forward Ben Carlson (1) goes to the basket as Jacksonville State guard Skyelar Potter (5) defe...
Associated Press

Utah hits 16 3-pointers, routs Jacksonville State 99-58

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — Lazar Stefanovic made six of Utah’s 16 3-pointers, and the Utes scored the first 19 points of the game and cruised to a 99-58 rout of Jacksonville State on Thursday night for its fourth straight win. Stefanovic finished with 20 points. Branden Carlson added 19 points and Gabe Madsen had […]
1 day ago
Steelers use strong 2nd half to beat Cowboys 16-3