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Cooper Rush’s first-half performance was so bad, even Zeke couldn’t watch. Courtesy DallasCowboys.com

With Halloween fast approaching, it’s only natural that a supernatural vibe would begin to permeate everything all around. Eerie, creeping clouds collecting overhead. Bad omens on the horizon. A stinging chill settling into the bones. On Sunday night, with a subtle dire mood set, rascally sports spooks seemed to be looking to turn up the ominous tone a bit. Beginning with NBC’s pregame presentation, which featured an uncomfortably energetic Jason Garrett chattering like a coked-fueled trust fund bro describing his latest startup to a glazy-eyed coed pinned into a corner at a party, something just didn’t feel right. Bad juju hung in the air.

Maybe it was the jarring images of the robotic former Cowboys head coach — obviously running a beta-stage anthropoid personality software upgrade — giggling and crowing, “Fly, Eagles, Fly!” into a live microphone that sent a disturbing chaotic wave reverberating into the cosmos, knocking astral bodies out of alignment. Or, in preparation for the game, had sickly looking Eagles head coach Nick Sirianni burned in effigy a “How ’bout them Cowboys?!” T-shirt in some occult sacrificial ceremony that unleashed the latest Trash Pigeons’ horcrux? Perhaps it was simply a karmic debt owed by legions of Dak Prescott-hating Cowboys “fans” prematurely erecting shrines to their newly anointed savior Cooper Rush finally coming due. Whatever the cause, once foot touched pigskin at kickoff in Philadelphia in front of the national TV audience on Sunday Night Football, somehow, I just knew the Cowboys were fucked.

The game began with a brutal first half that saw the Eagles jump out to a 20-3 lead. Heretofore white knight Rush was largely responsible for the damage, managing to complete just five of 16 passes for 36 yards and tossing two interceptions, a performance that through two quarters had earned him a literal LOL-able quarterback rating of 1.0.

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Dallas rallied a bit in the third quarter, at least making the game interesting. They would pull to within three points in the fourth before Philadelphia finally slammed the door shut on another Rush-led comeback, icing the game with an A.J. Brown touchdown-capped drive coming on the heels of Rush’s third interception of the night, driving in the dagger of a 26-17 final.

With Rush, after starting his career 5-0, a streak that highlighted just about the steadiest bus driving one could ever hope for from a backup, the world witnessed our hero revert back to mortality — the forest green of the Eagles’ unis seemingly Super Cooper’s kryptonite. Just like that, the streaking starbound rocket that was No. 10 has burst into flames mid-ascent, a high school QB’s arm strength the defective O-ring that ultimately doomed him.

To keep it in perspective, losing on the road with a backup quarterback to a division rival (an undefeated one at that) doesn’t really require rending of garments or gnashing of teeth. The only real frustrating thing about this loss is that the unbeaten Eagles looked so extremely beatable. Philly did the bulk of their scoring in the second quarter, which has been a season-long trend for them. They’ve amassed 116 total points during that particular period through six games, an all-time NFL record. And all the turnovers certainly didn’t help. Beyond that, Philly’s much-ballyhooed offense looked pretty pedestrian. The game was there for the taking.

Yet, along with Rush’s quintessentially undrafted backup-QB-like execution, every aspect of the Cowboys’ decidedly solid recent performance similarly fell apart. The top-tier defense suddenly looked storebrand, including a practically neutralized Micah Parsons, who went through the whole first half amassing zero QB pressures, a first for his career. Boneheaded drive-extending penalties, missed field goals, and irredeemably terrible coaching decisions pulled themselves out of their graves from the 2021 season like so much walking dead. One of the most perplexing scenarios I’ve ever witnessed started with CeeDee Lamb’s “missed” third-down conversation — replays showed the receiver clearly reached beyond the sticks — and the completely unnecessary turnover on downs from deep within Cowboy Country which culminated in three more points for the Iggles. Did the Cowboys not have an assigned replay guy there to shake head coach Mike McCarthy out of whatever trance the Eagles’ witches had put him under?

However, all is not lost. All signs point to the return of Dak Prescott next week to set himself and the rest of the team right against the lowly Detroit Lions. Hopefully, he will be able to perform at a level that reminds some folks just why he’s still this team’s unquestioned QB1. I have to believe, despite all the silver and blue’s self-inflicted blunders on Sunday, Dak would have won that game had he played.

By virtue of the Giants continuing their inexplicably winning season and extending their record to 5-1 with another upset victory, this time over Baltimore, the NFC East race is more complicated than it’s been in more than a decade. Maybe two. Dallas now sits at third at 4-2, two and a half games behind Philly. Yet the Cowboys seemed to have weathered the gauntlet of backup QB-dom and remain squarely in the hunt. The 4-1 run over the stretch without No. 4 is a virtual miracle, and Rush deserves a lot of credit for his part in that achievement. But now it’s time for him to go back and resume the role he’s best suited for: holding a clipboard and uselessly wearing a headset on the sideline.

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