MINNEAPOLIS — On one hand, Cooper Rush wasn’t fazed. The Cowboys’ backup quarterback had studied this offensive system since 2017, cycling through playbook reps in practice, training camp, and preseason games. He didn’t expect the speed of thefor the better part of five years now. Still, the opportunity that Rush received Sunday night was the culmination of a dream he never gave up on and couldn’t guarantee. Because last October, Rush watched most NFL games from his couch.
Since the Cowboys signed Rush in 2017 as an undrafted free agent, the Central Michigan product kept tabs: How many games, as the second-string to durable Dak Prescott, did Rush prepare physically and mentally for yet never play? The count hovers around 50, Rush’s career stats amounting to 1 completion, three pass attempts, and six contests in which he saw garbage-time opportunities since 2017. The Cowboys had carried him most of that stretch, releasing him for just a few months in 2020 whena team-friendly deal. Rush returned to the Cowboys after Prescott and Dalton were unavailable in late October 2020 but never took the field.
So, thiswas meaningful for Rush’s family. Prescott’s ability to play through a calf strain remained a game-time decision, but signs pointed toward Rush’s opportunity. First-team practice reps this created “more sense of ‘this is real’ than usual,” Rush said. Rush’s parents, brothers, wife, and 6-month-old daughter (left with a babysitter during the nighttime contest) to Minneapolis during the occasion. The Rush , husband, and father’s 325-yard, two-touchdown performance in a 20-16 win over the Vikings. The Cowboy’s to six.
“It wasn’t crazy,” said Rush, whom teammates laud as epitomizing the neutral mindset the team often emphasizes. “I felt like I belonged out there. You’re in the huddle, breaking the O-line, going through your processes. It didn’t feel overwhelming at all. “It never felt too big in terms of the speed. I just felt in command. Playing with those guys, I get to play out there – go down the list. O-line, , receiver. It just makes my job a lot easier.” Rush’s rapport with those teammates was evident.
His debut start was by no means perfect,and mixing in an interception and a sack-fumble with his successful strikes. His precision was inconsistent, and decision-making riskier than preferred, especially when throwing over the middle. For a loss of 10 yards, Rush took a costly sack that pinned Dallas at its own eight and left the team to punt halfway through the third quarter with the game tied. But Rush nonetheless completed passes to seven teammates, connecting on more than 100 yards’ worth of targets to receiver Amari Cooper (8-of-13 targets, 122 yards) and CeeDee Lamb (6-of-8, 112) amid a booming purple U.S. Bank Stadium crowd. And his first NFL career touchdown, a 73-yard touchdown to open the second half, was one to remember.
“I can’t say enough about Cooper being ready to jump in there,” headMcCarthy said. “Productive did an excellent job, commanded the offense.” The first half was shaky, with attempts but failing to bring the Cowboys inside the 20. Vikings safeties teamed up to intercept one of Rush’s first-half passes and another would-be interception was dropped. The Cowboys extended drives to 7 more minutes of possession than the Vikings had. But those four first-half possessions combined to notch just 3 points. Could the second half be stronger?
A 2-yard Ezekiel Elliott run, and a too-low incompletion to tightbreed optimism. But then, on the Cowboys’ third play of the series, Rush dropped back and saw receiver Cedrick Wilson split the safeties in the Vikings’ Cover-2 defense. against a defensive look identical to what they anticipated. Rush muscled the ball up the middle, thinking, “Get in there, Ced. Get in there.” Wilson caught the pass in stride 23 yards downfield, then 50 yards after the catch.
The Cowboy’s sideline went wild. “That’s what the first touchdown does,” said Prescott, who celebrated enthusiastically. “Big third down, catching the defense, the position we wanted them to be in, and the play. Coop dialed a perfect ball to Ced, and Ced did the rest. “It was a great momentum for us.” Dallas would need that. Even as the Cowboy’s defense allowed the Vikings to convert merely 1 of 13 third-down attempts, Dallas’ offense struggled to find a home again. Former Cowboys defensive end Everson Griffen’s sack of Rush fourth quarter, they seemed more promising, Rush finding Lamb, Cooper, and receiver Noah Brown for double-digit gains on three of the first four snaps of a drive. But another ex-Cowboys player, safety Xavier Woods, apparently wasn’t content with an interception. Woods blitzed from the left and knocked the ball loose from Rush. Vikings linebacker Anthony Barr recovered.. In the
In thethree minutes, when the Cowboys received the ball back trailing by 3, Rush demonstrated his command. Again, the precision and chemistry weren’t Prescott-caliber: Rush missed Lamb on a short pass in tight coverage near the left sideline and threw a slightly ill-timed pass to Cooper down the right sideline. The ball eluded Cooper’s grasp, bouncing off cornerback Harrison Hand’s frame. But Cooper locked in to swipe it from the air, ultimately completing a 33-yard play. Cooper had assured Rush of such outcomes, imploring the quarterback to trust his matchups outside. Cooper repeatedly told Rush: “These guys can’t guard us.” As the two-minute warning sounded, Cooper was determined to keep proving it.
The Cowboys lined up for just their second red-zone snap of the day with 1:51 to play, Rush’s family now standing in their seats as nerves made the more-passive sitting unbearable. A penalty and a tackle for loss put the Cowboys behind the chains until on third-and-11, 1:04 to play; Rush stayed calm in the face of swarming defenders to nail Elliott, who barreled for the first down. Rush then called a play with Cooper in mind, the veteran receiver confident even as he returned to the field from a sideline visit to massage his injured hamstring. Second-year, the Lamb lobbied for his touchdown opportunity, but Cooper demurred.
“I said, ‘Hell, Nah,'” Cooper said. Rush says he didn’t fathom a handoff on the run-pass option play. “I saw single high, one-on-one with Coop(er),” Rush said. “We’re throwing it in that situation.” The Cowboys were also winning it. The Cowboys had notweek’s game at home against the Broncos, his calf strain close enough to work that he went through an entire 38-minute warmup Sunday afternoon before the final decision was called. But the Cowboys – whose 6-1 record bests every NFL with injuries, a trailing record, and a raucous road environment in prime time.
“This is a gut-check win for us,” McCarthy said. “It just confirmed (our) ability to fight through adversity. This bunch has a lot of character. They’re tight. They enjoy one another. “They just don’t blink.” Count Rush atop thewho never flinched in the contest. The play was not always clean, but ultimately, what he hoped for in of preparing for this opportunity. “You wait a long time,” Rush said. “You dream about (this). It’s just as good as the dreams.”