There was no Dak Prescott and no Ezekiel Elliott. Carson Palmer and Larry Fitzgerald were on the sideline. But still, when the Cardinals and Cowboys faced off in the Hall of Fame game Thursday, it wasn’t nearly as bad as we expected.
Don’t believe us? Look how much fun Prescott, Elliott, and Dez Bryant had on the sideline.
Here are the top six reasons the Hall of Fame game wasn’t a total waste of your time.
1. Blaine Gabbert looked like a quality NFL quarterback.
Yes, that Blaine Gabbert. The one who finished last season with 925 yards, five touchdowns, and six interceptions in six games with the 49ers. Now he’s with the Cardinals, and he looked like a totally different quarterback against the Cowboys.
A FOOTBALL TOUCHDOWN HAS BEEN SCORED pic.twitter.com/Hy61ZEvu6A— SB Nation GIF (@SBNationGIF) August 4, 2017
Gabbert orchestrated two TD drives in the first 10 minutes. He finished the game 11 of 14 for 185 yards. He played like he might be getting a bust in Canton someday, but it is the preseason, so take it with a generous grain of salt. Gabbert won’t challenge Carson Palmer for the starting job, but he sure did enough to challenge Drew Stanton for the Cardinals’ backup role.
2. There were some genuinely fun offensive plays from the Cowboys.
Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliott weren’t on the field, but a couple of other Cowboys stepped up to give us some highlights.
FIrst and foremost was tight end Rico Gathers, who was drafted by the Cowboys in the sixth round of the 2016 NFL draft. Gathers played college basketball at Baylor, and he hadn’t played football since the eighth grade
You sure couldn’t tell on Thursday night.
Not to be outdone, Alfred Morris was out there schooling the Cardinals with this ridiculous spin move.
Morris may get some significant playing time early in the season if Elliott does have to serve a suspension, so it’s good for him that he made an impression.
3. Speaking of Zeke, he had a very unusual snack on the sideline.
Feed Zeke. No, seriously, feed him. If he’s hungry enough to eat his beard, he needs some kind of snack.
4. Robert Nkemdiche, Haason Reddick, and Budda Baker stood out for the Cardinals defense.
Arians was happy with Gabbert’s performance, but also mentioned Nkemdiche and Reddick by name.
At half, BA says "very pleased" with Gabbert and "showed lots of poise." Says "pleased" with Reddick + Nkemdiche "had a heck of a 1st half"— Paul Calvisi (@PaulCalvisi) August 4, 2017
Nkemdiche brought quite a bit of pressure on Cowboys backup quarterback Kellen Moore early in the game. Reddick, who was a walk-on at Temple and became a first-round draft pick for the Cardinals in 2017, also got after the quarterback and added three tackles. Baker, a second-rounder for the Cardinals this year, contributed six tackles, a pass breakup, and one quarterback hit.
Arizona lost Calais Campbell, cornerback Marcus Cooper, and safeties Tony Jefferson and D.J. Swearinger to free agency this offseason. It should encouraging for the Cardinals to see their young defenders stepping up in the preseason.
5. EZ Nwachukwu scored a touchdown.
Nwachukwu, who was a fan favorite on the Houston Texans’ season of Hard Knocks, only had one reception Thursday night. He made it count, though. Nwachukwu’s 14-yard touchdown reception gave the Cowboys a 17-15 lead in the third quarter.
EZ was loved by fans of Hard Knocks in part because he asked some interesting questions, like, “Is there water on space?” But he also earned respect for his route running, which also paid off on Thursday.
6. This guy had to hold a monitor for a play that was under review.
It’s play review Inception.
The Cowboys ended up taking the win with a final score of 20-18. Yes, it was a game that really doesn’t matter, but it still had plenty of entertaining moments.