Mandatory Credit: Photo by Adam Hunger/AP/Shutterstock (13422432dv) Dallas Cowboys quarterback Cooper Rush (10) passes against the New York Giants during the third quarter of an NFL football game, in East Rutherford, N.J Cowboys Giants Football, East Rutherford, United States – 26 Sep 2022
Backup quarterback? That’s what a backup quarterback is supposed to look like like? Who knew? Some starting quarterbacks don’t look half as good.
Cooper Rush was poised, accurate, and efficient when given the keys to America’s Team for a second straight week. It did not hurt that his team has playmakers—many of them very young and very confident—on both sides of the ball.
Second-year linebacker Micah Parsons was a monster of a pass rusher on one side, veteran defensive end DeMarcus Lawrence on the other. Another second-year star, cornerback Trevon Diggs, lurks in the secondary, fearless and fast. Throw at him at your own risk, Mr. NFL QB.
And CeeDee Lamb? Oh my. Dropping what should have been an easy touchdown pass in the first half, taking over the game in the second. That’s what’s No. 88 is supposed to do for the Cowboys, and there’s about a half-century of history to prove it.
Raise your hand if you punched “the Cowboys are toast” on your NFL bingo card when quarterback Dak Prescott broke his thumb in an opening loss at Tampa.
Hide your eyes, Cowboy haters. All of a sudden, your least favorite team is feeling pretty darn sporty about itself after a 23-16 road victory over the previously unbeaten New York Giant on Monday night.
With the game tied in the fourth quarter, Rush and Lamb hooked up four times on one drive, including a four-year, fourth-down throw to keep what turned out to be the winning alive.
Lamb’s 26-yard reception got the ball to the goal line, and he finished it off with a one-handed, one-yard touchdown grab. Game, set, match.
He had dropped an open touchdown pass in the first half, but jumped up smiling and vowed on the sidelines to make up for a rare miscue.
“CeeDee has that 88 on for a reason,” running back Ezekiel Elliott said. (The Cowboys do not retire numbers, and so if you get the one that has been worn by Drew Pearson, Michael Irvin, and Dez Bryant, you have expectations.)
“CeeDee is a superstar,” Elliott said. “He had a hell of a game. He had that one drop early, but he responded and had that big drive, that big touchdown catch.”
There was lots more. Tony Pollard and Elliott combined for 178 rushing yards. The Dallas offensive line didn’t allow a sack. Defensively, the Cowboys sacked Giants quarterback Daniel Jones five times, broke up five passes (three by Diggs), forced a turnover, and allowed just one touchdown.
Lawrence had three of the five sacks, and Parsons surprisingly didn’t have one despite being a constant presence in the New York backfield.
“They controlled the line of scrimmage,’’ Giants head coach Brian Daboll said. “They ran the ball for 180 yards; they gave up no sacks. When you’re not getting pressure on the quarterback, they can usually stay in rhythm pretty good.’’
Love ‘em or hate ‘em, the Cowboys can’t be ignored, and that’s true whether you’re in Dallas or Houston or Seattle or New York. They drive conversation and television ratings.
No matter that they haven’t exactly been winning championships, or even getting close, the last, oh, quarter century. That’s four playoff victories in 26 years and zero appearances in the NFC Conference Championship Game, if you’re counting.
Once upon a time, a conference title game was no big deal in Big D. They’d played in 14 of 25 NFC Championship Games prior to this little bitty dry stretch.
The Cowboys have been to the playoffs in three of Prescott’s five healthy seasons since Jerry Jones grabbed him in the fourth round of the 2016 draft. Of all Jerry’s dealings—good, bad, atrocious—getting a franchise quarterback in the fourth round may end up being his smartest move ever.
Beyond the plays he makes, Prescott has that certain indescribable something that leaders have. That is his team rallies around him. That’s why his injury in a 19-3 opening loss to Tom Brady and the Bucs led some to see the Cowboy’s season as going nowhere.
Into this void stepped Cooper Rush of Central Michigan with his one career start. In two starts this season, victories over the Bengals and Giants, he has completed 64.5 percent of his passes and thrown two touchdown passes and no interceptions.
He led second-half touchdown drives of 75 and 89 yards in back-to-back possessions after the Giants took a 13-6 lead.
“He doesn’t get rattled,’’ Cowboys coach Mike McCarthy said. “He’s so consistent.’’
Prescott said Monday night he could return for Sunday’s game against the hapless Washington Commanders, but Jerry may be more cautious.
Jones had joked at one point that he hoped Rush played well enough to cause a quarterback controversy. He simply meant that would mean good things had happened for the Cowboys in Prescott’s absence.
Rush has played well enough to do just that in his two starts, but this is Prescott’s team, and the Cowboys will go as far as he leads them.
Or as far as a defense that has allowed three touchdowns in three games leads them. It’s just the sixth time the Cowboys have allowed only three in the opening three games of a season.
“We needed some momentum,” Elliott said. “As a team, going on the road with a backup quarterback, it’s going to be a little tough. It’s always tough on the road, a tough division game on the road. But Coop was poised as usual. We ran the ball really well, and D just balled out.’’
Let’s face it; whether you adore them or can’t stand them, you pay attention to them. Life is just better when the Cowboys are good.