DALLAS — The Dallas Cowboys love to zig when people think they’re going to zag. They’re the ultimate enigma in the NFL.
After a putrid season-opening loss, where they were the only team in the league held without a touchdown, and being forced to play without starting quarterback Dak Prescott who suffered a thumb fracture, the Cowboys answered the doubters with a surprising 20-17 win over the reigning AFC champion Cincinnati Bengals.
The victory came via a last second field goal that granted the Cowboys their first win of the season, a win that no one expected. As an underdog at home, there was little faith that quarterback Cooper Rush could get it done, despite the backup winning his only start a season ago. Rush didn’t inspire much confidence with his play in the preseason, but his best came out against the Bengals.
The Cowboys controlled the game early, taking the opening kickoff and embarking on a 12-play, 75-yard touchdown drive. Rush rolled out and found wide receiver Noah Brown in the corner of the end zone for the nine-yard score, the first Dallas TD of the year. The score was also the veteran receiver’s first NFL touchdown on his way to leading the offense with 91 yards on Sunday.
The other first half TD came from Tony Pollard, who collected an impressive outside quick touch pass, sped down the sideline, but came up just short of the end zone. Mike McCarthy and Kellen Moore then did something too few coaches do, they rewarded the player who put the team in position to score points and called on Pollard for an easy one-yard touchdown.
By halftime, Dallas led 17-3 after dominating on both sides of the ball. Their defense held the Bengals to just 84 yards of offense in the first 30 minutes and sacked quarterback Joe Burrow four times in the first half. Micah Parsons had two sacks as he helped the Cowboys stymie the vaunted offense and found himself in the league’s record books.
Up by 14 points with 30 minutes to play, the second half played out more like the pregame expectations. Before the game-winning drive, Rush completed just four second half passes and didn’t look anything like he did in the first two quarters. The Cowboys didn't move the ball with any consistency and failed to add to their lead.
Dallas also struggled to get off the field on defense and allowed the Bengals to hang around as they eventually came back to tie the game at 17-17 late in the fourth quarter. The Bengals converted on too many third downs, and one fourth down, in the second half which kept the Cowboys’ defense on the field.
Yet when the game was on the line, Rush, the defense, and a much-maligned kicker stepped up to earn the win.
The Cowboys gave up points in three of their four defensive possessions in the second half but stopped the Bengals cold when the Cincinnati offense took the field with 2:13 left with a chance to win the game. The unit forced a punt and got the offense the ball back.
When the Cowboys got the ball back with :57 left at their own 35-yard line, Rush went 3-3 for 30-yards to help set up the game-winning kick from Brett Maher. Rush guided the six-play drive that was executed to perfection to gain the much-needed win.
The situation was a near carbon copy to how the Cowboys won in Week 2 last season against the Los Angeles Chargers. Like last year, the Cowboys were 0-1 following a loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and searching for their first win of the season and found themselves tied at 17-17 late in the fourth quarter and moving into field goal range.
The biggest difference this year was Rush and the coaches executed Sunday’s winning drive in a much cleaner fashion without as much drama ahead of the long field goal attempt.
In both games, the kickers made the clutch kicks lifting the Cowboys to a 20-17 win and a 1-1 start to change the perception about where the team is headed.
There’s plenty to correct, as maddening penalties cost the Cowboys points once again, but during the big moments in the game such as the first drive to ease the pressure on the team, and the final drive to victory, the Cowboys made the key plays to get their first win of the season.
Week 2 was a win that almost no one predicted as many Cowboys fans had already jumped ship following the injury to Prescott. Cooper Rush and the defense reminded everyone that you can’t count the Cowboys out just yet. Much like in the 2021, Dallas will now prepare to take on a division rival on Monday night in Week 3 (New York, in this case) with the opportunity to climb above .500 on the table.
The Cowboys proved that they are a resilient bunch and the 2022 season is far from over.
Do you think the Cowboys saved their season with their Week 2 win? Share your thoughts with Ben on Twitter @BenGrimaldi.