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Dallas Cowboys Week 3 Checklist: What Got Accomplished at New York

They fought. And they won.
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Trevon Diggs and the Cowboys' defense came up big again. Robert Deutsch-USA TODAY Sports.

The Cowboys toppled the previously undefeated New York Giants 23-16 to move to 2-1 on the season. Here’s what they accomplished in a slow-burning Monday night victory.

Fought

Three games into their season, I don’t know how savvy these Cowboys are.

They remain chronically penalty-ridden, several of which deep-sixed promising drives. They refuse to trim Ezekiel Elliott’s workload enough to maximize Tony Pollard, who is obviously their best running back, more so now than ever before. And Mike McCarthy’s endgame decision-making leaves room for opponents to creep into games that could have been nailed shut.

But if last week’s gutcheck win over Cincinnati didn’t prove it, Monday’s triumph in New York did: this team is relentless.

The pass rush, even with Randy Gregory plying his trade in the Rocky Mountains, is hellacious, a destroy-by-committee unit that gets after the quarterback from all directions in one wave after another.

The offense, ravaged by injury, punches above its weight, from Tyler Smith maturing as a left tackle at 30x speed to Cooper Rush cosplaying as a starting quarterback so well that he tricked Jerry Jones into ginning up a quarterback controversy to Peyton Hendershot flinging his body out of anonymity and into big moments as Dalton Schultz’s stand-in to Noah Brown playing stratospheres above his pay grade.

Brett Maher, perhaps the most resilient of them all, continues to shovel dirt on the unpredictability that got him run out of town in his first stint, making kick after kick after kick (and, yes, missing one, but you can’t hold a failed 59-yard attempt against him).

There is Micah Parsons wringing every ounce of strength from his illness-ridden body. And there is old standby Tank Lawrence, who heaped pressure on his shoulders and responded by playing at the peak of his powers.

And CeeDee Lamb—more on him in a moment.

The story of this team’s season will be of resolve and precision—how much the former can overcome a lack of the latter. We are a ways away from learning the answer, but we at least know something in at this early juncture.

The Cowboys fight. On Monday, they won, too.

Delivered everything we want from their best receiver

Had you taken a gander at social media late in the second quarter, you’d have found no shortage of people willing to consider Lamb’s ghastly drop of a would-be bomb to be the epitome of his season to date. Too inconsistent. Too scatterbrained. Too green or too incomplete or too little of the proverbial right stuff to emerge as the alpha of a passing game the way Dallas needs him to.

Even the Lamb believers, among which I count myself, could not ignore that, for the third week running, he spent long stretches playing subordinate to Brown, the ex-seventh rounder with a fraction of Lamb’s acclaim or résumé.

All of which made Dallas’ go-ahead touchdown drive early in the fourth quarter the most significant of the season. No, it did not have the dramatics of last week’s game-winner. But in a few weeks’ time, if all goes according to plan, Cooper Rush will not matter once Dak Prescott is healthy. Brown will matter a whole lot less with Michael Gallup and Dalton Schultz off the shelf. What will matter—what must matter, if Dallas aims to repeat as NFC East champions—is Lamb blossoming into the top receiver his talent always portended he’d be, the sort of player who grabs drives by the scruff of the neck and lugs them to the end zone.

Which is exactly what he did on his 1-yard touchdown grab, that gorgeous one-hander that fits nicely in his growing collection of eye-popping catches:

Thing is, we’ve seen those before. What’s come far less often is the run after the catch that set up the score, in which he barreled into a defender, searching for every last yard. And don’t forget the gritty fourth-down conversion earlier in the drive, when he got pasted as soon as he caught the ball on a comeback route.

The talent has always been there. So has been the creativity. It’s the griminess and consistency that have yet to come, but they peaked their heads out last night at precisely the right time. Now they’ve got to stick around.

Dan Morse will have more on that touchdown drive later today.

Said no to selfies

But only after trying, like, super hard to take one:

Reminded us that age sometimes still comes before beauty

We can—and should—quibble with the Cowboys’ decision to treat a 40-year-old signed late in training camp as their get-out-of-jail-free card for neglecting their offensive line in the offseason. But after Matt Farniok’s ill-timed penalty blew up Dallas’ first drive of the game, Jason Peters stepped in and became exactly that at left guard.

The pregame chatter of Peters only making a cameo? It was a meaningful one: he played Dallas’ final three drives of the first half.

And for good reason. Watch his block on Tony Pollard’s 46-yard run, the longest play from scrimmage for either team.

Peters is a left tackle by trade, and there’s an argument to be made that he should reprise that role in Dallas as Smith continues his teething at the NFL level (he picked up two more penalties Monday night, a trend dating back to his college days at Tulsa). Yet even in limited duty, playing out of position, Peters’ impact was noticeable. Stick his 330-pound body in a phone booth, lean on his guile and old-man strength, and watch good things happen.

Tantalized

Prescott’s stitches are out, and he told Lisa Salters pregame that he’s not ruling himself out for Sunday’s game against the Commanders just yet. How optimistic should you be about this? Judge this snippet for yourself, and overreact accordingly:

Placed a city’s trust in Cooper Rush

There is a reason Michael Irvin broke into delirium after this game. Take it away, Babe Laufenberg:

Jones’ dreams of a quarterback derby notwithstanding, I’d encourage you not to overreact here. Cooper Rush is not Prescott, nor is he Tony Romo. The 28-year-old isn’t about to overcome his lack of pedigree nor his undrafted status to become a Cowboys institution.

But a damn reliable backup quarterback? An orchestrator who tiptoes the line between taking shots without being reckless? Someone who has yet to be rattled in a big spot?

Yeah, safe to say Rush has passed each of those tests.

Turn Irvin down to a safe volume, and his disclaimer—“As a backup, in Rush, we trust”—is precisely right. It’s why I’d bet on him starting Sunday against Washington, because he’s proven capable of handling certain assignments, and the Commanders have looked more hopeless than these Giants in the early going.

Rush can’t do the things Prescott has over a full campaign, which is to say he won’t make Dallas’ season. But it’s time to stop expecting QB2 to break it, either.

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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…