Last week, I, along with basically anyone else who watched the debacle unfold on Sunday Night Football, proclaimed that the Dallas Cowboys had likely played their last bit of meaningful football for the 2022 season. All three and a half quarters of it that there was. The shameful offensive display against the Buccaneers, compounded by quarterback Dak Prescott facing what appeared to be a potentially month(s)-long absence due to injury, left little for fans to cling to for hope. I had categorically called the Cowboys dead at the scene and laid the blame for their demise squarely at the Florsheims of owner Jerry Jones and the senseless personnel decisions he and his wild band of Arkansan man-children made in the offseason by gutting precious offensive depth for seemingly no purpose.
Yet if there’s one thing Jerruh apparently loves more than Johnny Walker Blue and preying on emotionally vulnerable airport ticket clerks, it’s proving me wrong. Enter: the current requisite ginger-haired Cowboys backup QB Cooper Rush to serve me up a heaping helping of humility-flavored blackbird. With a very respectable 19 of 31 for 235 and a TD in just his second NFL start, Rush led Dallas to a stunning 20-17 victory over last season’s Super Bowl runners-up the Cincinnati Bengals on Sunday. The shocks are still reverberating from AT&T Stadium.
The outcome is the type of thing that only someone who stumbled upon a 2022 Sports Almanac wedged in between the seats of a time-traveling DeLorean could predict. Just as it took only a single evening to torpedo the hopes and dreams of the Cowboys faithful last week, over the course of one afternoon, suddenly the doomsday clouds have parted, and a giant ray of sweet, sweet sunshine has come beaming through. Cooper Rush is our shining knight in silver and blue armor. Let’s start planning the parade route now!
Jokes aside, the win over Cincy was a commendable full-team effort. Along with Rush’s solid performance, the patchwork offensive line managed to keep the interim QB1 upright and cleared lanes for a fairly decent running game. Heretofore untrustworthy kicker Brett Maher went perfect on the day, going 2-2 from beyond the 50, including a last-second game winner. Even the much-maligned coaching staff elevated their performance. OC Kellen Moore called a nifty script of plays through the first few possessions, which helped spot the Cowboys a quick 14-3 lead, while head coach Mike McCarthy obviously had his boys much better prepared to play than the week prior, evidenced by the fact that the team cut the penalties committed a week ago in half from 10 to five. The team as a whole also played with more heart and grit than many might have expected they had. We’ll choose to ignore the confusing decision to decline a penalty that would have resulted in a Cowboys first down and some very questionable clock management late in the game and give Big Mike due credit.
However, credit for the victory really, ultimately belongs to the defense. Not sure how it works in the jungle, but in this game, the lion feasted on the tigers. Micah “The Lion” Parsons had two of the Cowboys’ six sacks of Cincy’s Joe Burrow on the day. Joe Shiesty looked absolutely terrified of No. 11, a guy who just looks completely unblockable. Unless of course he’s being held. Which he is on basically every play because what else can you do? (Hopefully one day the zebras actually start calling it.) The tilt was Parsons’ second consecutive multi-sack game and puts him on pace for a laughably unbelievable 34 sacks this year, a number that would shatter the single-season record of 22.5 currently shared by Pittsburgh’s T.J. Watt and Hall of Famer Michael Strahan. It also makes 17 career sacks in Parsons’ first 18 games in the league, a feat never before accomplished since they started tracking sacks in1982.
On top of the beastly performance of Parsons, cornerback Trevon Diggs had a stellar game as well. He helped keep a lid on Bengals All-Pro wideout Ja’mar Chase, who let slip an unflattering evaluation of Diggs as a player just before the game. Diggs proved him wrong by allowing only two catches for 14 yards while covering Chase. Diggs also had a potential game-saving tackle on Tyler Boyd late in the fourth quarter which forced Cincy to punt the ball away, and the Cowboys’ subsequent drive won the game with Maher’s buzzer-beating field goal. It was spectacular.
If pro sports were a time-traveling DeLorean, overreaction would be the garbage that fuels its Flux Capacitor™. The emotional investment of obsessively following a team makes it such that one’s mood becomes an analog of the highs and lows of that team’s performance. Usually, an exponentially inflated one. Success is elation on par with the euphoria of hot air balloon travel through the Aurora Borealis with highly potent peyote coursing through your bloodstream. Failure, the digging of your favorite childhood pet’s grave during a 100-year rainstorm.
I am certainly not immune to emotional ups and downs. As the four or five people who regularly read this column (a few friends, my mom, and my editor) can attest, I, just like any fan, am prone to the proverbial pulling of the patella. But overreaction is what makes sports fun. So let me just yank my hopes and dreams up out of the ditch for a moment.
While I still have serious doubts about the long-term viability of this year’s Cowboys, especially while they’re without Dak Prescott (just stop it with the Rush > Dak nonsense), I feel infinitely better about them being able to get by until he returns, which, if the Joneses are to be believed, could be much, much sooner than anyone expected — as early as next week against the Giants on Monday, according to Stephen Jones. I definitely don’t buy that, but the optimistic assessment is encouraging. With a game they should have lost in hand and a defense that looks totally legit, they’re playing with a little house money and can avoid a, um, rush to bring Dak back.
If this past week is any indication, the ’Boys should be able to pick right back up where they left off before Prescott went down and could be in the mix along with a scary-looking Philadelphia team for the division crown whenever No. 4 does return. That is, of course, until they inevitably get blown out by New York next week and I have to grab my shovel to start digging Fluffy’s grave again. Here’s to rolling with it.