One-armed Knife Sharpener
- Apr 7, 2013
By Bob Sturm 1h ago
Surely on a crazy day in the NFL where backup QBs were beating massive favorites in both of the other TV windows, Sunday night would want a bite of the apple, as well.
This column is going to be mostly about Cooper Rush.
We were warned all day with the events in New York and New Orleans that this ridiculous league had plenty of surprises from backup QBs who do not often win games in this league pulling off huge upsets. From that standpoint, the prospect of a very good Dallas Cowboys team winning without their MVP-candidate QB1 should have seemed all the more possible.
But, it really never felt that way until it happened.
With Mike White — a Cowboys fifth-rounder in 2018 — beating the heavily favored Bengals at noon CT, the conclusion drawn all afternoon was, “Why isn’t he the backup in Dallas? Surely, he is better than what the Cowboys have starting tonight if Dak Prescott cannot go!”
There was a time not so long ago when a certain writer for a certain media company made a very clear case of Mike White over Cooper Rush in this exact space. Heck, this past spring, we did it again with our three-year evaluation of that draft class. Basically, if he can’t beat the small challenge he had, how could he scale slightly higher hills?
My general feeling a few hours before kickoff was expressed on Twitter when I rudely claimed that White could have been here if he would have just beaten out Rush in either the 2018 or 2019 training camps — or both. He did not and how could that even be possible?
I know I pontificate about these stories in sports. Perhaps we all do because we find many more relatable things when borderline roster stories rise up and do something memorable like Cooper Rush than we do worldwide superstars like LeBron James or Tom Brady slay yet another adversary. Rush has both succeeded in putting together five years of employment in the most difficult league in the sport and failed in that virtually nobody thought he could win a game last night in Minnesota outside of those in the Cowboys organization who trusted him. His own fan base had lost interest in seeing more of him by halftime last night.
Sports never disappoint.
If you decided at halftime it was time to go watch the World Series or perhaps sort out your newly collected Halloween candy as opposed to sticking with your team’s quest to get a hard-fought win in Minnesota, you chose poorly.
Because Rush and his mates found 17 points in the second half and fought their tails off in pulling a 20-16 decision out on the road over the frustrated Vikings and built their record to 6-1. In a season of identifiable moments that suggest this is a new era in Dallas Cowboys football, this one might be near the top of the list. And the fact that it has been 54 days since the Cowboys last tasted a defeat should encourage you greatly that they might just be getting started.
It will be hard to know where things clicked last night for Rush, but we assume the first minute of the third quarter where his 73-yard touchdown pass to Cedrick Wilson is when it became obvious that they were in this game. Remember, he had thrown a very poor interception in the middle of the field early in the second quarter. That would normally be where some coaching staffs would pull everything in tight and play it safe. Heck, Mike Zimmer had a very highly compensated veteran quarterback Sunday night playing it pretty safe most of the evening.
It is third-and-8 from the Cowboys’ own 27-yard line. They trail 10-3 and are right out of halftime on the opening drive. This is where we have been conditioned to play it safe and punt by the past decade of Cowboys football. Especially with a backup QB who is unknown and untrusted by most.
Would it be a safe run or a quick dump down? No. These guys flipped the game by calling a play where Rush was empowered to fire it right down the hash because he was facing a split-safety look and one safety was going to go help on Amari Cooper on the right sideline and the other safety would help on CeeDee Lamb on the left sideline. Wilson was in full gallop and Rush put a beautiful throw right in his hands as he raced by the slower slot Mackensie Alexander and navigated all the way to the end zone for an unlikely touchdown.
It was a backup quarterback throwing to a backup slot receiver as Dallas pass-protected with a backup right tackle and a backup left tackle. And yet, the disposition of the offense was to go get this game tied on third-and-8 in a hostile environment just a few drives after an interception.
You have to love all of that last paragraph. It bodes so well for the potential of this entire operation.
In fact, if you want to back up the discussion to an hour before the game, we can take it even further. The Cowboys were looking ahead to a stretch where they play four games — Broncos, Falcons, at the Chiefs, Raiders — between Nov. 7 and Thanksgiving Day. Four games in 19 days and thought that if they aggravate Dak Prescott’s calf in this game, it could jeopardize all four of those. Understanding the math that four is greater than one, the Cowboys opted out of allowing him to play even if he looked like he probably could and expressed that he wanted to.
Now, that is the prudent decision, but it is also disappointing to everyone involved right down to those of us who just wanted to see a great game. So, the decision could be correct and still be widely hated if Dallas then goes out and doesn’t even show themselves competitive. Their performance Sunday night would not really have much to do with the health of their franchise player’s body, but the consumption of the decision by every football mind nationwide would view it based on the performance of the rest of the team that night.
Lose 28-10 and everyone complains all week.
But, what if you don’t lose? What if you have a team rise up and win with guys getting chances to contribute and then empower them with confidence from the decision-makers that they have more faith in you than those on the outside ever will?
This brings us back to Rush.
Television is great at what they do and the pros at NBC understand we all have hearts. So, the brilliant decision to tell Sunday night’s story with occasional views of Rush’s family — his parents and his wife — hit most of us right in the feels. If you have children, you might know the white-knuckle ride of seeing them compete. Seeing them deal with success occasionally, but failure repeatedly is just part of the experience of raising them.
To see that guy’s dad throughout the team’s journey down the field for that final drive was incredible. He had Cooper’s wife on his right and Cooper’s mother on his left, but it was hard not to resonate with the father right in the middle of the screen. It provided additional anxiety for all involved, but down 16-13 with time running out did not require an extra helping.
They took the ball over with 2:51 to go and needing a field goal to force overtime or a touchdown to just take care of this right here in Brainerd. Again, we know which “play it safe” selection we were likely to see. The same one Zimmer chose in the drive before where there was no reason not to go for the touchdown other than risk-aversion.
This is where Amari Cooper took over. What made that even more remarkable was that he alternated between making huge gains and then nursing a nagging injury on the sideline. He was giving them what he had, one snap at a time. Cooper for 33. Then Cooper again for 18 puts them quickly into field-goal range.
And this is where things got a little off track. A near-fumble by Noah Brown was nullified by a Vikings penalty. Then, a holding penalty pushed Dallas back to a third-and-16. That was chopped down to third-and-11 because inexplicably, the Vikings took a delay of game on defense for consecutive timeout calls — which they should have preserved for their own offense.
But, it set up a third-and-11 that should stick in our minds for years to come. When people discuss the Ezekiel Elliott narrative on NFL Films some day, I trust they won’t forget that third-and-11 in Minnesota with 1:04 left when Rush was building a drive for his scrapbook.
Rush may have had more aggressive ideas, but the protection would only allow a quick dump to Elliott. He needed the 9-yard line to get a fresh set of downs and would get the ball at about the 20. He caught the ball and headed up field, but big Anthony Barr had him at the 16 in a collision with Alexander. Zeke pushed right through it and didn’t break stride. Then, he encounters another Vikings’ sandwich at the 10 with both Xavier Woods and Cameron Dantzler. Again he pushed through and as Dantzler held on, Harrison Smith finally helped stop him at the 5.
It was incredible. Zeke would not go down for basically 16 yards. I cannot remember him authoring a bigger play at a bigger juncture in years. A quiet game turned into one of his most legendary moments.
Now, you start thinking about “scoring too fast” and whether you fear your defense holding up against Kirk Cousins one last time. So, on first-and-goal, the Cowboys have an RPO called where Mike McCarthy would later suggest he thought that called for a run. Rush saw it differently and had Cooper again on a one-on-one with Dantzler for one final time. This may very well decide victory or overtime and that was the moment Rush put a perfect fade throw on Cooper at the back of the end zone.
Amari went up — bad hamstring and all — and grabbed the ball with both hands and expertly dropped both feet in bounds at the back left corner of the end zone.
Jump cut back to Rush’s dad who has both hands in the air and is screaming something that looked like it may have been “Oh My Gosh”, or something like that. It doesn’t matter. Just know that that is the moment every dad probably dreams about, let alone his backup QB son who probably wondered if he would ever factor into a game that mattered.
Well, yes. Yes, you would. This one. And if this is the only one, well, it was a pretty awesome night in Minnesota for Rush, his teammates who battled their tails off, too, and the Cowboys who now sit at a very strong 6-1 as we enter November.
That is what “fight” is all about. There are different ways to say it and many different Cowboys contributed on this night, but I hope even the most cynical and broken part of the fan base understands what that type of win could be foretelling about what lies ahead. When everyone wants their turn to go win games, then you get excited about what is developing in that locker room. A general feeling that there is no challenge that isn’t worth taking as the wins continue to stack and the division lead continues to broaden.
This isn’t about conceding games because someone is hurt. This is about giving someone else an opportunity to be a hero.
And on this Halloween night in Minnesota, it is clear who will be recorded first in the history books. Take a bow, Cooper Rush. You delivered a fantastic memory for anyone watching.
Especially your dad.