The Dallas Cowboys have some cleaning up to do.
The Cowboys turned a winnable performance into a loss Saturday night by making the kind of mistakes they've spent all preseason trying to avoid -- basic stuff, too, like drive-ending penalties on offense and drive-extending penalties on defense, turnovers and poor decisions.
"That's the kind of things that can get you beat," coach Wade Phillips said following a 20-13 loss to the San Francisco 49ers.
The errors came from start to finish, from a holding penalty on Leonard Davis that erased a field goal on Dallas' opening drive to the spurt of gaffes that helped San Francisco score 10 points in the final four minutes: a lost fumble by Isaiah Stanback, pass interference by Courtney Brown and a horse-collar tackle by DeAngelo Smith.
Mix in Tony Romo's first interception of the preseason and a fumbled snap by backup Jon Kitna, and it looks as if there will be some back-to-basics work in practice leading up to the preseason finale Friday night in Minnesota.
"I think there is a lot of room for improvement," Romo said.
Consider the four series run by the starting offense.
They gained 195 yards and had 13 first downs, converting on 5 of 8 third-down tries. They got within at least 35 yards of the end zone on every drive, all while playing without top receiver Roy Williams.
However, they managed only a single touchdown. And it didn't come on the series that started with first-and-goal from the 9.
"Too many mistakes," receiver Patrick Crayton said.
The penalty on Davis scuttled the first drive, then the second ended with Romo trying to do too much, an accusation he's heard plenty of times before. With a defender charging at him, Romo rushed a deep throw toward rookie Kevin Ogletree but the pass came up short and into double coverage. It was intercepted and returned into Dallas territory.
"You have to make a better decision under distress at that moment," Romo said. "When something breaks down on a play that's long developed on the field, you have to make sure you minimize the mistake and I enhanced it. So we will look at it and improve upon it. But I'm upset with myself for making that decision."
The backfield tandem of Marion Barber and Felix Jones led a 94-yard, 14-play march on the next drive and it was clean as could be. Then the Cowboys got the ball back at the 9 and could only get to the 2.
A false start by lineman Marc Colombo didn't help, then on third down Romo scrambled and threw to Crayton when it appeared he could've run into the end zone. It's another decision he might regret once he looks at the film. Dallas wound up with a short field goal, although it was longer than it had to be because of another false start.
"We have to capitalize there; three points isn't enough," tight end Jason Witten said. "It's not perfect and we understand that. But we were able to put some good drives together. ... Wade has made it a point that we can't have those mental errors pre-snap. Collectively, we have to continue to work on that. It's been a point of emphasis. We have to carry it over to games."
Up only 10-3 at halftime, the Cowboys made it 13-10 with another field goal early in the fourth quarter. Again, it was a drive that stalled inside the 10-yard line.
After a defensive stand, Dallas got the ball back with less than 8 minutes left. Kitna opened with a pass to Stanback that he caught then coughed up. San Francisco recovered at the Dallas 30 and kicked a field goal to tie it.
With overtime looming, Dallas avoided it with a few more breakdowns.
Brown tangled with a receiver 27 yards down the field on a third down, jump-starting the 49ers' next drive. Then Smith resorted to a horse-collar tackle to bring down a receiver, scooting San Francisco closer to the winning touchdown, which came two plays later.
"You never want to have penalties and we had penalties at the wrong time, which you know but that's one of the things you want to limit," safety Ken Hamlin said. "The first-, second- and third-team, we're all trying to get better. It's not one group that needs to get better, all of us need to get better."
They've got one week of preseason left to do it, then comes the opener Sept. 13 at Tampa Bay.
Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press