tony-sparano_web.jpgAP Sports Writer

MIAMI — The Miami Dolphins' offense came off the field following a long touchdown drive and, waiting to offer congratulatory handshakes were Reggie Bush, Chad Henne and Brandon Marshall.

While starters watched, the Dolphins won a battle of backups Dec. 1 by beating the Dallas Cowboys 17-3 in the final exhibition game for both teams.

Reluctant to risk injuries so close to the start of the regular season, the Cowboys designated 31 of their 80 players as inactive, while the Dolphins had 21 inactive players. Three starters were active for each team.

Larry Johnson scored on a 22-yard touchdown run for Miami and backup quarterback Matt Moore threw for another score.

Dolphins coach Tony Sparano decided to rest many of his players after holding two physical practices during the week. Instead, he used the game to assess players battling for roster spots.

“To see some of the guys you have questions about and want to see play a bunch was helpful,” he said.

One of those players was Johnson, a two-time Pro Bowl selection who signed with the Dolphins a week earlier after sitting out most of last season. He rushed for 39 yards on 10 carries and scored the game's first points.

“It was good to get him into the mix,” Sparano said. “The guy knows how to score touchdowns.''

Actually, Johnson hasn't scored a regular-season TD since 2008 with Kansas City. Repeated missteps and two suspensions in his final 12 months with the Chiefs derailed his career.

“It's not necessarily that my talent has gone down,” Johnson said. “It's more my off-the-field issues and problems have always overshadowed my ability. I shot myself in the foot. For me, it's being able to play catch-up and doing it the right way.”

Moore, another Miami newcomer, went 9 for 11 for 142 yards, including an 18-yard touchdown pass to third-string tight end Jeron Mastrud.

“I liked what Matt did,” Sparano said. “We were simple and basic but Matt did a good job.''

The only Dolphins starters active were receiver Brian Hartline, linebacker Koa Misi and safety Chris Clemons. With roster cuts looming over the weekend, about half the players who saw action will likely be released.

Dallas (2-2) plays its regular-season opener Sept. 11 against the New York Jets.

“We're fired up and ready to go,” Cowboys receiver Dez Bryant after taking the night off.

Miami (3-1) opens Sept. 12 against New England. Like Bryant, Sparano is sounding confident.

“There's a different buzz on this team right now,” the coach said. “There's a good vibe, which is why I think this team is going to win.”

Moore, slated to back up Henne this season, started the game and led touchdown drives of 79 and 59 yards. His completions included a deep pass to speedy rookie Clyde Gates for a 42-yard gain that set up a TD.

Dan Carpenter kicked a 50-yard field goal for Miami.

Photo: Tony Sparano