ARLINGTON –- If you're one of those people who puts stock into the concept of a dress rehearsal, if you're convinced what happens in Week 3 of the preseason can set the tone for the regular-season opener, you can spend the next 15 days feeling good.
Dak Prescott dropped the curtain on a crisp preseason with a touchdown pass. The quarterback led the Cowboys to three scores on four possessions in his three games, and did so without the help of Ezekiel Elliott and Amari Cooper.
A defense that has lined up without Pro Bowl defensive end DeMarcus Lawrence and Pro Bowl corner Byron Jones this summer finished with a flourish.
On this evening, the Cowboys even came up with a big play on special teams. How often did that happen last season?
The margin of the Cowboys 34-0 victory over Houston Saturday evening at AT&T Stadium didn't matter. The foundation for the opener against the New York Giants has been laid. Now, it's about fine-tuning a few elements, nursing the injured starters back to health and waiting to see if Elliott will end his holdout before Sept. 8.
If he doesn't? Well, the performance of Prescott and rookie Tony Pollard should generate some short-term optimism.
That didn't prevent Jason Garrett from hammering home how much work is left to be done.
"We're not close," the Cowboys head coach said. "We're not close. [Saturday] was a good night for us, but there was so much in that game that was not up to our standards. Our spirit and mentality, all of that was good. But we've got to get better and execute better."
The touchdown Prescott threw early in this game was the quarterback at his athletic best. He escaped the rush of Texans linebacker Whitney Mercilus on third-and-goal and drilled a 12-yard pass to Michael Gallup.
Prescott was 11 of 14 for 109 yards and a touchdown in the preseason. He had no turnovers and was sacked only once. He led the Cowboys to 17 points – a field goal and two touchdowns – in his four possessions.
"I mean, I feel great," Prescott said. "Any time we get to go out and get some live action, some good, quality reps, put the body in motion... it's good.
"Sometimes, preseason helps you put a point on it, it helps you get there. Sometimes it doesn't.
"It all helps me, whether I'm out there for a couple of plays or a couple of series."
And he did this without Elliott and Cooper. Those two accounted for 49.5 percent of the yards gained by the Dallas offense last season.
"I think he's playing well," Garrett said of his quarterback. "He's confident and comfortable.
"Guys love playing with him."
The Cowboys didn't draft Pollard to replace Elliott. The club took him in the fourth round to complement their Pro Bowl back and diversify the offense. But Pollard has shown in these three games he's capable of carrying the load in the interim.
Pollard had six carries for 26 yards. He had a 24-yard reception on a pass from Cooper Rush called back because of an illegal block by tight end Jason Witten.
If Pollard doesn't play against Tampa Bay in the preseason finale, he will finish 15 carries for 84 yards and a touchdown. He added three receptions for another 19 yards.
The starting defense didn't allow any points in the preseason and was dominant against the Texans.
Defensive end Taco Charlton came up with a strip sack of quarterback Deshaun Watson on Houston's third play and recovered the fumble to hand Prescott and the offense the ball on the Texans' 24-yard line.
This came after defensive tackle Maliek Collins blasted Lamar Miller in the backfield for a 1-yard loss on a hit that forced the Texans running back to the locker room on a cart.
Linebacker Joe Thomas blocked a punt on Houston's next possession and recovered the ball in the end zone for a touchdown.
The Cowboys defense took the field for one more possession in the first quarter and produced a three-and-out.
The damage: Houston scraped together only 33 yards on 10 plays against the Cowboys' starting defense.
"The defense takes the ball away, and the offense cashes in on it," Garrett said. "You get the blocked punt and score and the defense continues to get after the quarterback. These are all things you want to have on your team.
"You want to respond and feed off things, gather momentum and go. You have to earn momentum. It doesn't just happen. It's about energy, playing downhill and executing."
The Cowboys did that Saturday night.
As far as dress rehearsals go, this was about as good as it gets.