Cooper Rush does it again: QB leads Cowboys to win against Bengals without Dak Prescott
ARLINGTON, Texas — For three quarters, the Cowboys nearly threatened to give it away.
An offense without quarterback Dak Prescott opened with touchdowns on each of its first two drives then promptly did little of anything in the second, third and much of the fourth quarter.
But leave it to backup Cooper Rush, in his second career start, to engineer a game-winning drive in the final minute for the second time in as many tries. Kicker Brett Maher’s 50-yard field goal as time expired secured Dallas’ 20-17 win.
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With the win, Cowboys head coach Mike McCarthy avoided an 0-2 hole for the 15th straight season.
The Bengals, defending AFC champions, fell to 0-2 on a sputtering offensive day that yet again revealed major problems with their offensive line.
Here are three takeaways from the game:
The result, perhaps, gives Dallas fans more hope than they carried after Dallas scored three points in the season opener and also lost Prescott to a thumb fracture that has since required surgery to his throwing hand.
Here are three more things we learned about the Cowboys in their performance:
Hot early start: Is a touchdown on each of the first two offensive drives a low bar for success? Perhaps, but the Cowboys achieved that mark Sunday for the first time since Oct. 20, 2019. Rush was impressive in building that lead, especially in his connection with receiver Noah Brown. He stayed poised in a collapsing pocket while finding Brown 17 yards up the middle on 4th-and-2, and ultimately nailed a diving Brown for a 9-yard touchdown, the first score of the game and of Brown’s six-year pro career. Credit running back Tony Pollard for Dallas’ second early score, Pollard bursting 46 yards down the left sideline and then punching the last yard up the middle. The Cowboys ultimately failed to sustain that momentum the following three quarters.
Perilous protection: Few would deny Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow is among the best young quarterbacks in the league. But the Bengals have left Burrow, who led his team to the Super Bowl last year in just his second season, navigating an offensive line that routinely fails to block for him. Parsons beat right tackle La’el Collins — whom Dallas released in March before he signed with Cincinnati — for his first sack up the middle, later rounding left tackle Jonah Williams for his second. Linebacker Leighton Vander Esch, defensive end Dante Fowler, and defensive end Dorance Armstrong (twice) also downed the quarterback. Sure, the Cowboys' defensive line is among their deeper positions. And the defense quashed 11 third-down attempts of Cincinnati’s 17. But chalk this up at least as much to a line that has left Burrow out to dry often the last two weeks. Burrow finished 24-of-36 for 199 yards and a touchdown, also scrambling four times for 26 yards.
Offensive spark: With all eyes on him in his first multigame starting opportunity, Rush completed 19-of-31 passes for 235 yards, one touchdown and no interceptions. Brown was his most reliable weapon, catching all five targets for 91 yards. CeeDee Lamb bounced back from a 2-of-11 opener to catch 7-of-11 for 75 yards. Running back Tony Pollard totaled 98 yards of offense and a touchdown. The Cowboys’ lone mistake: tight end Dalton Schultz fumbled in the third quarter when attempting to gain further yards after a catch on what was already a first-down conversion. No matter: The Cowboys held off.
Rush and the Cowboys face their undefeated division rival, the New York Giants, next Monday night in New Jersey.
Follow USA TODAY Sports’ Jori Epstein on Twitter @JoriEpstein