Cardinals quarterback Blaine Gabbert (left) celebrates running back Andre Ellington's first-quarter rushing touchdown.
CANTON, Ohio – Blaine Gabbert has a long way to go to resurrect a sidetracked career.
His debut with the Cardinals was a nice start.
The embattled quarterback flashed his potential in the Hall of Fame game, completing 11-of-14 passes for 185 yards in a 20-18 loss to the Cowboys on Thursday.
Gabbert, who played the first half, didn't throw a touchdown pass but led a pair of scoring drives that pitted the Cardinals to a 15-0 lead after their first two possessions. He was sacked twice and fumbled, but those were the only blemishes. He finished with a quarterback rating of 118.8.
"Any time you can start out the game with a touchdown drive, that's a good start," Gabbert said. "We were running the ball really well. The offensive line did a great job. Receivers were making plays and we were converting on third down. We were clicking pretty well there for a few minutes."
Gabbert completed his first eight passes for 140 yards before a drop by Marquis Bundy ended his streak. If Gabbert continues to play at this level he will be in great shape to secure a spot on the active roster. The former first-round pick signed a one-year deal this offseason after tepid interest on the free agent market.
"Hell, yeah," said Arians when asked if this performance was important for Gabbert's confidence. "It's his only shot. If you go out there and screw it up, you ain't going to be here very long. It's real important."
The Cardinals escaped the game relatively healthy but lost rookie running back T.J. Logan to a wrist injury in the fourth quarter. Arians liked what he saw from the fifth-rounder and hopes he isn't sidelined long, but the severity isn't yet known.
The Cardinals took an early lead on rushing touchdowns from Kerwynn Williams and Andre Ellington but the Cowboys answered back with 17 unanswered points. Matt Wile hit a 40-yard field goal with 3:50 remaining in the third quarter to put the Cardinals ahead 18-17 before Dallas answered with a 43-yard boot by Sam Irwin-Hill with 10:49 remaining for a 20-18 edge.
Wile, a punter filling in for Phil Dawson, missed a 32-yard field goal in the fourth quarter and a last-ditch drive with third-stringers came up short. Punter Richie Leone also missed a long field goal in the first half which could have impacted the outcome. Arians wasn't happy with the result even though it has no bearing moving forward.
"We play to win," Arians said. "We don't play to lose. We missed two kicks. They're punters but they are also kickers. They should have made the two kicks."
Gabbert saw extensive action because starting quarterback Carson Palmer and backup Drew Stanton both sat out. The only starter to play was rookie inside linebacker Haason Reddick, the team's first round pick.
Arians was happy with Reddick's performance, and was also encouraged by the play of defensive tackle Robert Nkemdiche. While the former first-rounder finished with minimal impact on the stat sheet, he was consistently in the Dallas backfield, pressuring quarterback Kellen Moore or clogging up running lanes.
"I just felt like I was myself," Nkemdiche said.
Tight end Ifeanyi Momah had a nice showing, catching three passes for 48 yards in the first quarter as he tries to lock down a roster spot. Safety Budda Baker saw extensive action and played well, while rookie sixth-round pick Rudy Ford tied for the team lead with nine tackles. Undrafted quarterback Trevor Knight played the second half but didn't have much success, finishing 5-of-14 for 68 yards while failing to get the team into field goal range before time ran out in the fourth quarter.
Cornerback Brandon Williams had an up-and-down day. He was called for a pair of penalties and was beaten for a 32-yard pass, but atoned for those mistakes with an interception in the end zone as the first half winded down.
"We've got some young guys that are very capable players," Arians said. "We've got to just keep moving them along."
Images from the Hall of Fame Game on Thursday in Canton, Ohio