Rourke makes highlight reel play in NFL debut with Jags
ARLINGTON, Texas (AP) — Calvin Ridley wasn't around to answer questions about his first NFL action in almost two years.
Any extended insight into how the Jacksonville receiver feels about working with his new quarterback in a game will have to wait.
Ridley had two catches in his return from an absence lengthened by a yearlong gambling suspension, and Trevor Lawrence responded to an interception with a touchdown pass in a 28-23 victory over the Dallas Cowboys in a preseason opener Saturday.
Playing against mostly Dallas backup defenders, Ridley had a short catch on Jacksonville's second series, then a first down grab on the third possession before Lawrence's scoring toss to Christian Kirk.
“It felt good to get back out on that field today with my teammates,” Ridley said in a statement issued by the team after the game. “I'm excited about the direction we're headed as an offense and as a team.”
Lawrence's TD toss was set up by a fumble on a punt return from KaVontae Turpin, who a year ago essentially made the roster with the Cowboys by returning a kickoff and a punt for scores in the same preseason game.
“Obviously it's such a small sample size,” Lawrence said. “It's different when you play a full game and you get different looks and you kind of progress as the game goes and you kind of get settled in. I thought he did a great job.”
It was the first game for Ridley since Oct. 24, 2021, with Atlanta. Playing through a broken left foot that season, he stepped away to address his mental health following a home robbery. Ridley was suspended for the 2022 season because he bet on the NFL while away from the Falcons.
The Jaguars traded two draft picks to get Ridley last November, and he’s been the team’s most dynamic player so far in training camp. He caught 90 passes for 1,374 yards and nine touchdowns in 2020, when Ridley said he played most of the season with that broken foot.
The QBs behind Lawrence, C.J. Beathard and Nathan Rourke, had a short TD run apiece.
Rourke had the play of the game in the fourth quarter when he escaped two defenders and was in the arms of a third while throwing a 21-yard scoring pass to Qadree Ollison.
Dallas third-stringer Will Grier had two touchdown passes. The first was a 17-yarder to Jalen Tolbert, a second-year receiver trying to get into the rotation after a quiet rookie season.
Jacksonville played its starters on the first two offensive series, and it ended up being three after Turpin's fumble was recovered by Gregory Junior at the Dallas 42-yard line.
Ridley's second catch was a 13-yarder for a first down, and Lawrence's 9-yard scoring toss to Kirk came on fourth-and-3.
Lawrence was 5 of 6 for 36 yards, 21 of them going to Ridley. The first Jacksonville series ended when Lawrence threw deep while rolling to his left and undrafted second-year safety Juanyeh Thomas made the catch in front of Evan Engram.
The Cowboys didn't play quarterback Dak Prescott or any other projected starters on offense in coach Mike McCarthy's return to play-calling. The closest thing was right guard Josh Ball, who is filling in for Zack Martin with the six-time All-Pro holding out of training camp in a contract dispute.
PLAY IT BACK
McCarthy called the plays for the first time since midseason in 2018 when he was Green Bay's coach.
While he said it was “like riding a bike,” McCarthy did call for “Strong Right.” That play was in his Packers playbook, not this one.
“Personally, I’m glad I have a number of coaches that worked with me before,” McCarthy said. “We got it corrected right away.”
GO FOR IT
The Jags apparently didn't need to see kicker Brandon McManus, who was signed in May after he was waived by Denver. McManus spent his first nine seasons with the Broncos. Jacksonville went for 2-point conversions after all four TDs. Two passes were caught, and two were incomplete.
DEUCE ON THE LOOSE
Dallas rookie sixth-round draft pick Deuce Vaughn had a solid debut with 50 yards on eight carries, all in the second half. The 5-foot-5 running back had a 26-yard run and a catch for a third down conversion before a 4-yard run that gave the Cowboys their only lead at 16-14.
ANOTHER ROOKIE RUNNER
Jacksonville's Tank Bigsby, a third-round pick, had a 34-yard run two plays before Jacob Harris' 42-yard catch on the drive that ended with Beathard's scoring run. Bigsby had 52 yards on nine carries.
STILL A PAT PROBLEM
Dallas kicker Brandon Aubrey, a 28-year-old rookie from the USFL and former pro soccer player, kicked a 29-yard field goal in his debut before missing his first point attempt. He made the second.
Aubrey is the only kicker on the roster at the moment. The Cowboys decided to move on from Brett Maher after he missed four consecutive PATs in a 31-14 wild-card victory at Tampa Bay last season.
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