ARLINGTON, Texas -- The way Felix Jones shimmied through defenders and Marion Barber slammed into them Saturday night reminded the Dallas Cowboys why they are so excited about their running game this season.
Dallas rode Jones and Barber for most of a 94-yard touchdown drive, the highlight series during the first-half battle between the first-team units in a preseason game against San Francisco. The 49ers won the battle of the backups in the second half, winning 20-13 on a 9-yard touchdown run by Kory Sheets with 33 seconds left.
"They're a great combination," Cowboys offensive coordinator Jason Garrett said of Barber and Jones. "You don't want to pigeonhole one as being this kind of back and the other guy being this kind of back. We just like to get them out there and let them play and they both have proven they can run both inside and outside and they can catch the ball, and they can block and do all those things. It's just fun to see them get their opportunities."
Dallas (1-2) outplayed San Francisco (3-0) when the starters were in, with Tony Romo getting the Cowboys into scoring position on three of four drives, but they led only 10-3 at halftime.
"We're continuing to grow as an offense and I think there is a lot of room for improvement," said Romo, who was 11 of 17 for 125 yards and his first interception of the preseason.
Playing in the hometown of their holdout wideout, the 49ers had only 36 yards over their first three drives. They even used their version of the Wildcat formation twice to try getting something going, with little success. On their final drive of the half, Hill finally completed some passes to a receiver -- three to Arnaz Battle -- and got a 42-yard field goal in the closing seconds of the second quarter.
"I would have liked for it to have gone a bit smoother than it did," said Hill, who was 9 of 17 for 79 yards. "You can't tell a whole lot right now. I just wish we could have put a few more points on the board. ... There's just certain plays out there that we need to make, but we didn't. They were stopping those drives. Obviously, we have a lot of work yet to be done."
Sheets turned 11 carries into 42 yards and two touchdowns. His first tied the game at 10 in the third quarter, then came the winner in the final minute.
Nate Davis went 10 of 15 for 132 yards and leading two scoring drives in the final quarter, bolstering his chances of sticking with the club.
"It meant a lot to me," Davis said. "That's one thing I want to be on this team -- a leader."
Romo guided Dallas' starters to 195 yards and 13 first downs despite being without starting receiver Roy Williams (shoulder) and reserve receiver Sam Hurd (thigh). Miles Austin caught three passes for 44 yards and undrafted rookie Kevin Ogletree had two catches for 36 yards, both on third downs on the opening drive.
But the Cowboys stopped themselves from getting more points.
Their first drive ended in a field goal, but a penalty wiped it out and they punted. On the next drive, Romo rushed a throw into double coverage and it was intercepted.
"You have to make a better decision under distress," he said. "I'm upset with myself for making that decision."
The 94-yard TD drive followed, then came another trip inside the 10. On third down, Romo scrambled and threw Patrick Crayton. Had Romo kept running, he might have had an easy touchdown. Instead, Crayton was stopped and the Cowboys settled for a short field goal.
The long scoring drive began at the 6 and nearly ended on the first play as the speedy, shifty Jones blew through the middle and into the secondary. After going down on an arm tackle by safety Mark Roman, Jones walked away smiling, then later blamed himself for not picking up his heels enough to get past the final defender.
Then Barber showed why Terrell Owens dubbed him "Marion the Barbarian," bullying his way for 30 yards on seven carries, including a 3-yard gain on fourth-and-1. His last carry reached the 3, then it was Jones' turn again. He slithered between his blockers for his second touchdown in as many games.
"We have to carry this on through the regular season," Jones said. "It's still a learning process for us. We are just going to continue to run hard and get better."
Jones finished with 23 yards on five carries and Barber 47 yards on 13 attempts. Third-stringer Tashard Choice -- who has dubbed the trio "Smash, Dash and Tash" -- outgained them both, going for 55 yards on eight carries in the second half before getting the wind knocked out of him.
The second football game in the Cowboys' new $1.15 billion home drew 72,171 fans, and didn't feature a single punt that hit the overhead video boards that have been such a source of attention that the league issued a ruling about how to handle such a situation.
Well, those who showed up early might've seen San Francisco punter Andy Lee reach the 90-foot-high board solidly once in pregame warmups.