CANTON, Ohio - The first offensive series ended in a turnover, but the first defensive series produced a goal-line stand at the 5-yard line.
The Hall of Fame Game was predictable in that regard, given it was the first of four preseason efforts for the Steelers and Cowboys.
What head coach Mike Tomlin anticipated would be a learning experience for his team recognizable by ebb and flow given the circumstances revealed both play-making and mistakes.
The Steelers eventually found ways to more consistently make plays and minimize costly mistakes in what became a 16-3 triumph tonight at Tom Benson Hall of Fame Stadium.
Big plays that resulted in short fields finally got the Steelers' offense jump-started in the third quarter.
The first was a 36-yard punt return by wide receiver Mathew Sexton that set the offense up with a first-and-10 at the Cowboys' 33.
Quarterback Dwayne Haskins hit tight end Kevin Rader for 15 and then turned the heavy lifting over to running back Kalen Ballage, who carried on three of the next four snaps. Ballage went for 9 and 5 yards, and then for 4 more into the end zone after Haskins had failed to connect with wide receiver Ray-Ray McCloud.
Kicker Sam Sloman missed the extra point (with Christian Kuntz snapping and punter Pressley Harvin III holding, as they would all night) and the Steelers led, 6-3, with 10:48 left in the third.
Safety Donovan Stiner ended the Cowboys' next possession with an interception of quarterback Ben DiNucci and an 18-yard return to the Dallas 44.
The Steelers drove to the Cowboys' 26 but a holding penalty against tight end Marcus Baugh moved them back and they ultimately settled for a 48-yard field goal from Sloman and a 9-3 lead with 5:15 left in the third.
A third short field helped the Steelers achieve separation in the fourth quarter.
The Cowboys went for it on fourth-and-1 from their 32 early in the quarter but threw incomplete.
Quarterback Josh Dobbs took over and finished his first drive of the night with a 5-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Tyler Simmons on third and goal. Sloman converted for a 16-3 lead with 8:44 left in the fourth.
The Steelers' turnover occurred on the game's first possession when QB Mason Rudolph had the ball knocked from his grasp by wide receiver Chase Claypool, who was motioning behind the formation, as Rudolph was attempting either a hand off or a play-action fake.
The Cowboys' recovery stopped a drive that had advanced from the Steelers' 25 to the Dallas 46.
Dallas moved to the Steelers' 5 but settled for a 29-yard field goal after the Steelers' defense stuffed a run for a gain of 1, sacked QB Garrett Gilbert for a loss of 7 (outside linebacker Alex Highsmith), and forced an incompletion on pressure from nickel cornerback Antoine Brooks and Highsmith and a pass defensed by safety Tre Norwood.
The Cowboys reached the red zone again on their second possession, driving from the Dallas 11 to the Steelers' 7. But a sack/forced fumble by outside linebacker Cassius Marsh resulted in a 4-yard loss on third-and-3, and Norwood blocked the subsequent 29-yard field goal attempt to keep it at 3-0 Dallas with 11:26 left in the second quarter.
Rudolph and Claypool hooked up on a 45-yard gain to the Dallas 29 three plays later, but the offense went backwards from there and Sloman missed a 49-yard field goal attempt.
Game action photos from the Hall of Fame game vs. the Dallas Cowboys at Tom Benson Hall of Fame Stadium in Canton, OH
Sometimes, give-and-take occurred on the same play.
The Cowboys went for it on fourth-and-15 from the Steelers' 40 and came up with an apparent first down when quarterback Cooper Rush hit wide receiver Malik Turner for 20. But cornerback Justin Layne didn't give up on the play and knocked the ball loose. Brooks' recovery and 15-yard return set the Steelers up at their 35 with 4:03 left prior to halftime.
And so it went.
First-round running back Najee Harris professional debut included seven carries for 22 yards and one reception for 3 yards.
Second-round tight end Pat Freiermuth was among a host of Steelers not in uniform (mostly established veterans).
Freiermuth had left practice early on Tuesday with an apparent shoulder injury.