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Football

Dallas Cowboys Week 8 Checklist: What Got Accomplished at Minnesota?

Call it "The Cooper Rush Game"
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Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports

The Cowboys won their sixth straight game Sunday, an outcome that seemed preposterous once Dak Prescott was ruled out prior to the game. But it really did happen, on a night that we’ll remember for far more than the result.

Here’s what got accomplished:


Played what will henceforth be known as The Cooper Rush Game ✔

Years from now, when someone brings up The Cooper Rush Game — as this gloriously goofy Cowboys win will be known — I hope the first thing that comes to my mind is this image of Cooper Rush’s dad:

Don Van Natta, the ESPN reporter who screengrabbed the moment, captioned it with “joy,” and he’s certainly not wrong. There is joy here — palpable, powerful joy. How could there not be? Matt Rush just watched his son conduct a game-winning fourth quarter drive to carry the most popular sports team in the world to victory on national television.

Only — with the caveat that I am not, in fact, Matt Rush and therefore speculating — I don’t think it’s quite so simple. After all, Archie Manning watched Peyton and Eli do this countless times, as has Tom Brady Sr. with Tom Jr., and Chip Brees with Drew. We do not see photos of them quite like this one: eyes squeezed shut, head tilted upward, hands clasped atop the bill of a dad cap. Those men stopped being captured that way long ago, provided they ever were in the first place, because somewhere along the way, this sort of thing became expected. None of this was expected for Cooper Rush.

So while I saw joy, I saw something else, too: shock. Shock that a long-awaited opportunity — one month shy of Cooper’s 28th birthday, four years into being Dak Prescott’s backup and as many removed from his only NFL regular-season passes prior to Sunday — begat something truly spectacular. No matter how much faith Matt Rush has in his son’s abilities, there was no predicting a night like this. Cooper Rush, so unknown that, just 72 hours ago, I wrote a piece titled “I Googled Cooper Rush, Dak Prescott’s Backup, So You Don’t Have To,” is now a Cowboys cult hero.

The odds of this happening were remarkably low. The entire night transcended probability. Math is immaterial when a final drive begins like this …

… which occurred six plays before this …

… which happened two plays before this…

Facts matter far less than feelings in a game like this, and the feeling we’re left with is that this team might be invincible. Who cares that they aren’t—that there are things to clean up and plays they’d like back and a certain calf muscle that really needs to heal for this train to keep rolling? The Cowboys sputtered their way into Minneapolis, and now they practically float their way out of it, and much of that has to do with a player who graduated from anonymity to the talk of the town in three hours’ time. Why shouldn’t we believe they can win the Super Bowl after something like that?

We could discuss other things about Cooper Rush’s performance—that, for instance, his 325 passing yards were the second-most ever by a Cowboy debutante—and I could drop in more video of his exploits, such as his gorgeous 73-yard touchdown bomb to Cedrick Wilson.

But let’s instead bask in the joyous shock of it all. That’s the stuff worth remembering.

Celebrated friendship ✔

In the words of the philosopher king Jalen Brunson, the vibes are immaculate.

Delivered on defense ✔

Rush is the capital-s Story in the near term, but the big-picture development worth noting is on defense. So often this year, Dallas has leaned on turnovers to win on this side of the ball, knocking back big plays with bigger momentum shifts. It’s flashy and exciting and backbreaking if depended on too much, because no one enjoys turnover luck forever. Sure enough, it ran out Sunday, with Dallas losing the turnover battle 2-0.

The Cowboys responded by battening the hatches, holding the league’s sixth-best passing attack heading into the game to 177 passing yards (109 below their season average) and limiting Justin Jefferson, CeeDee Lamb’s foremost rival in last year’s loaded wide receiver class, to a career-low 21 receiving yards. Trevon Diggs’ interception streak was snapped, but Randy Gregory picked up another sack, and, most crucially, Micah Parsons was the best player on the field:

The takeaway isn’t that turnovers are irrelevant. It’s that the Cowboys proved they can win without them, an understated defensive equivalent to this offense piling on points any way they choose. That bodes well for playoff football.

Played trick or treat with Cedrick Wilson ✔

How often has the following scene played out over the last three seasons?

  1. Second-string receiver Cedrick Wilson, a former high school quarterback, gets the ball on a lateral or reverse, setting him up to throw a pass.
  2. Wilson throws said pass.
  3. Wilson does not complete said pass.

So you would be excused for presuming that the same three-step was doomed to repeat itself on first-and-10 late in the third quarter. That is definitely not what happened:

The easy joke is that this was the best pass a Dallas Cowboy completed on the night, and it’s hard argue the point because this would be the best pass a Dallas Cowboy could complete on most nights, a 35-yard javelin toss on the move that even Prescott himself would be jealous of. So, yes, the Cedrick Wilson trick plays can indeed bear fruit. Given how pretty this play was, don’t be surprised to see the Cowboys dial up a few more permutations of it this season.

Got served a cold dish of revenge ✔

Rush’s first bad decision of the night came early in the second quarter, when he forced a pass over the middle into coverage—a cardinal sin. Who was there to intercept it? None other than old friend Xavier Woods, who was drafted by the Cowboys and spent his first four NFL seasons in Dallas before signing with Minnesota this offseason.

Woods wasn’t done. Early in the fourth, he short-circuited Rush’s best drive of the second half to that point by drilling him on a blindside safety blitz to force a fumble.

Here’s where the revenge component comes in:

Awkward.

Reintegrated La’el Collins … just not in the way we expected ✔

The Cowboys’ right tackle returned from his five-game suspension this week to a declaration that he would work out at both guard and tackle in lieu of regaining his starting spot. That was something of a stunner: Terence Steele has done an admirable job filling in, but Collins is widely regarded as the third-best player on this offensive line and is compensated as such, too.

We can wonder amongst ourselves whether it’s a matter of letting Collins get back up to speed or the coaching staff sending a message, but either way, Collins was on the field Sunday night. And his greatest impact wasn’t at guard or tackle—or anywhere on the offensive line at all.

Oh, yes, fellow football nerds: the Cowboys ran the wishbone, with Collins and backup guard Connor McGovern playing the fullbacks.

It worked, too.

You can question the wisdom of this from a tactical standpoint, particularly after Tyron Smith left the game at the end of the first half due to injury, leaving 36-year-old journeyman Ty Nsekhe to hold down the fort. Collins, no matter how rusty, figured to provide a boost there. But from a fun standpoint? Kellen Moore forever.

Had their cake and ate it, too ✔

There was a solid rationale in place if the Cowboys lost this game the way they figured to: that a better shot at the coveted first-round bye wasn’t worth jeopardizing Prescott’s health when Dallas will cruise to a division title in the otherwise horrific NFC East.

Then they won.

Now the Cowboys are one win shy of Arizona, Los Angeles, and Green Bay for the best record in the NFC with a game in hand, and they bought Prescott time along the way. They are getting healthier, with Michael Gallup possibly back next week and DeMarcus Lawrence on the horizon. Cooper and Parsons looked revitalized; Gregory remains consistent. Everything Dallas could have wanted from this game, they got — and a special season shows no signs of slowing down.

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Mike Piellucci

Mike Piellucci

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Mike Piellucci is D Magazine's sports editor. He is a former staffer at The Athletic and VICE, and his freelance…