Sport: ‘Like I belonged’: Cowboys QB Cooper Rush pulls off clutch performance after years of preparation

Dallas Cowboys 'optimistic' about Dak Prescott's calf strain after Monday's MRI

  Dallas Cowboys 'optimistic' about Dak Prescott's calf strain after Monday's MRI The Dallas Cowboys are optimistic about Dak Prescott’s prognosis after an MRI on Monday confirmed the initial speculation of a calf strain. The Cowboys enter their bye this week before an Oct. 31 "Sunday Night Football" contest at Minnesota.From NFL plays to college sports scores, all the top sports news you need to know every day. “We’re going to take this week for rest and rehab and then we’re going to re-evaluate Monday,” Cowboys coach Mike McCarthy said Monday afternoon. “The words from (head athletic trainer) Jim (Maurer) were optimistic for Minnesota.

MINNEAPOLIS — On one hand, Cooper Rush wasn’t fazed.

The Cowboys backup quarterback had studied this offensive system since 2017, cycling through reps of the playbook in practice and training camp and preseason games. He didn’t expect the speed of the NFL game to ambush him like it might a rookie; after all, Rush has received a check from NFL teams for the better part of five years now.

Dallas Cowboys quarterback Cooper Rush (10) throws a pass during the second half of an NFL football game against the Minnesota Vikings, Sunday, Oct. 31, 2021, in Minneapolis. © Bruce Kluckhohn, AP Dallas Cowboys quarterback Cooper Rush (10) throws a pass during the second half of an NFL football game against the Minnesota Vikings, Sunday, Oct. 31, 2021, in Minneapolis.

Still, the opportunity that Rush received Sunday night was the culmination of a dream he both never gave up on and also couldn’t guarantee.

Bucs DT Vita Vea's high school RB highlight video is a must-watch

  Bucs DT Vita Vea's high school RB highlight video is a must-watch Vea played at Milpitas High School in Northern California and served as a running back and defensive lineman. As a senior, he rushed 47 times for 578 yards and 11 touchdowns. He had 19 sacks, according to his MaxPreps page. It makes you wonder why they didn’t feed him the ball more based on how unstoppable he was!Vea played defensive line at Washington in college and with the Bucs. The 2018 No. 12 overall pick is listed at 6-foot-4 and 347 pounds. He must have put on a ton of weight upon arriving at Washington.

From NFL plays to college sports scores, all the top sports news you need to know every day.

Because last October, Rush watched most NFL games from his couch.

“It’s pretty special,” he said

MORE: 32 things we learned from Week 8 of 2021 NFL season

Since the Cowboys signed Rush in 2017 as an undrafted free agent, the Central Michigan product kept tabs: How many games, as the second-string to durable Dak Prescott, did Rush prepare physically and mentally for yet never play? The count hovers around 50, Rush’s career stats amounting to 1 completion, 3 pass attempts and 6 contests in which he saw garbage-time opportunities since 2017. The Cowboys have carried him most of that stretch, releasing him for just a few months in 2020 when veteran Andy Dalton signed a team-friendly deal. Rush returned to the Cowboys after Prescott and Dalton were both unavailable in late October 2020, but he never took the field.

Cowboys Backup QB Had Telling Admission About Practice Reps

  Cowboys Backup QB Had Telling Admission About Practice Reps Dak Prescott isn’t a lock to start for the Dallas Cowboys this Sunday due to a calf strain. In the event that he can’t go, Cooper Rush will lead the Cowboys’ offense. With so much uncertainty surrounding Prescott’s status for this weekend, the Cowboys did an excellent job of making sure Rush is prepared to […] The post Cowboys Backup QB Had Telling Admission About Practice Reps appeared first on The Spun.

So this week was meaningful for Rush’s family. Prescott’s ability to play through a calf strain remained a game-time decision, but signs pointed toward Rush’s opportunity.

First-team practice reps this week created “more sense of ‘this is real’ than usual,” Rush said. Rush’s parents, brothers, wife and 6-month-old daughter (left with babysitter during the nighttime contest) traveled to Minneapolis during the occasion.

The Rush family traveled home celebrating their son, husband and father’s 325-yard, two-touchdown performance in a 20-16 win over the Vikings. The Cowboys win streak extended to six.

“It wasn’t crazy,” said Rush, whom teammates laud as epitomizing the neutral mindset the team often emphasizes. “I felt like I belonged out there. You’re in the huddle, breaking the O-line, going through your processes. It didn’t feel overwhelming at all.

Sunday Night Football: Without Dak Prescott, Cowboys and Cooper Rush stun Vikings 20-16

  Sunday Night Football: Without Dak Prescott, Cowboys and Cooper Rush stun Vikings 20-16 When the Cowboys elected to start Cooper Rush over an injured Dak Prescott, it seemed as if the Vikings were headed for a victory. But Rush had other plans. On the day of the backup quarterback, Rush connected with receiver Amari Cooper for a game-winning touchdown with 51 seconds left in the fourth quarter, leading [more]But Rush had other plans.

“It never felt too big in terms of the speed. I just felt in command. Playing with those guys I get to play out there – just go down the list. O-line, running back, receiver. It just makes my job a lot easier.”

Rush’s rapport with those teammates was evident.

His debut start was by no means perfect, Rush completing 24 of 40 passes and mixing in an interception and a sack-fumble with his successful strikes. His precision was inconsistent, decision-making riskier than preferred, especially when throwing over the middle. Rush took a costly sack, for a loss of 10 yards, that pinned Dallas at its own 8 and left the team to punt halfway through the third quarter with the game tied.

But Rush nonetheless completed passes to seven different teammates, connecting on more than 100 yards’ worth of targets to receiver Amari Cooper (8-of-13 targets, 122 yards) and CeeDee Lamb (6-of-8, 112) amid a booming purple U.S. Bank Stadium crowd. And his first NFL career touchdown, a 73-yard touchdown to open the second half, was one to remember.

“I can’t say enough about Cooper being ready to jump in there,” head coach Mike McCarthy said. “Productive, did an excellent job, commanded the offense.”

NFL Power Rankings: After Sunday night, Cowboys can start eyeing NFC's No. 1 seed

  NFL Power Rankings: After Sunday night, Cowboys can start eyeing NFC's No. 1 seed Nobody would have blamed the Dallas Cowboys for losing on Sunday night. When you take the safe route on Dak Prescott and sit him for a game at a solid Minnesota Vikings team, allowing him to rest his injured calf another week, you have to prepare for a loss. Instead, the Cowboys have to feel like they stole a win. To cap a Sunday in which multiple backup quarterbacks played the hero role, Cooper Rush made several key plays including a game-winning touchdown pass to Amari Cooper. The Cowboys escaped with a 20-16 win and gave Prescott another week to get healthy. It's the kind of win that can and should get the Cowboys thinking about getting the No. 1 seed in the NFC.

The first half was shaky, Rush completing 10 of 17 pass attempts but managing to bring the Cowboys inside the 20 just once. Vikings safeties teamed up to intercept one of Rush’s first-half passes; and another would-be interception was dropped. The Cowboys extended drives to the tune of 7 more minutes’ possession than the Vikings had. But those four first-half possessions combined to notch just 3 points. Could the second half be stronger?

A 2-yard Ezekiel Elliott run and a too-low incompletion to tight end Dalton Schultz didn’t breed optimism. But then, on the Cowboys’ third play of the series, Rush dropped back and saw receiver Cedrick Wilson split the safeties in the Vikings’ Cover-2 defense. This was a play the Cowboys had practiced all week, against a defensive look identical to that which they anticipated. Rush wound up and muscled the ball up the middle, thinking to himself: “Get in there, Ced. Get in there.” Wilson caught the pass in stride 23 yards downfield then raced the remaining 50 yards after the catch.

The Cowboys sideline went crazy.

“That’s what the first touchdown does," said Prescott, who celebrated enthusiastically. “Big third down, being able to catch the defense the position we wanted them to be in and the play. Coop just dialed up a perfect ball to Ced, and Ced did the rest.

“It was a great momentum for us.”

Dallas would need that.

Even as the Cowboys defense allowed the Vikings to convert merely 1 of 13 third-down attempts, Dallas’ offense struggled to find home again. Former Cowboys defensive end Everson Griffen’s sack of Rush forced a three-and-out on the next drive; incompletions and bit plays would limit the next to a punt and a field goal. The fourth quarter seemed more promising, Rush finding Lamb, Cooper and receiver Noah Brown for double-digit gains on three of the first four snaps of a drive. But another ex-Cowboys player, safety Xavier Woods, apparently wasn’t content with just an interception. Woods blitzed from the left and knocked the ball loose from Rush. Vikings linebacker Anthony Barr recovered.

The Cowboys defense promptly forced a three-and-out.

It was in the game’s final three minutes, when the Cowboys received the ball back trailing by 3, that Rush demonstrated his command. Again, the precision and chemistry weren’t Prescott-caliber: Rush missed Lamb on a short pass in tight coverage near the left sideline and then threw a slightly ill-timed pass to Cooper down the right sideline. The ball eluded Cooper’s initial grasp, bouncing off cornerback Bashaud Breeland’s frame. But Cooper locked in to swipe it from the air, ultimately completing a 33-yard play.

Crunching Cowboys stats: Anatomy of a total turnaround

  Crunching Cowboys stats: Anatomy of a total turnaround The numbers are beautiful this week for the Cowboys.To try and digest just how impressive this win was, here is a comparison of some of the key stats from each game.

Cooper had assured Rush of such outcomes, imploring the quarterback to trust his matchups outside. Cooper said he told Rush on repeat: “These guys can’t guard us.” As the two-minute warning sounded, Cooper was determined to keep proving it.

The Cowboys lined up for just their second red-zone snap of the day with 1:51 to play, Rush’s family now standing in their seats as nerves made the more-passive sitting unbearable. A penalty and a tackle for loss put the Cowboys behind the chains until on third-and-11, 1:04 to play, Rush stayed calm in the face of swarming defenders to nail Elliott, who barreled for the first down.

Rush then called a play with Cooper in mind, the veteran receiver confident even as he returned to the field from a sideline visit to massage his injured hamstring. Second-year Lamb lobbied for his own touchdown opportunity, but Cooper demurred.

“I said, ‘Hell, nah,’” Cooper said.

Rush says he didn’t fathom a handoff on the run-pass option play.

“I saw single high, one-on-one with Coop(er),” Rush said. “We’re throwing it in that situation.”

The Cowboys were also winning it.

The Cowboys have not ruled out Prescott for next week’s game at home against the Broncos, his calf strain close enough to workable that he went through a full 38-minute warmup Sunday afternoon before the final decision was called. But the Cowboys – whose 6-1 record bests every NFL team but the Packers, Cardinals and Rams – now know better both what their backup quarterback can provide and how resilient their team is when faced with injuries, a trailing record and a raucous road environment in prime time.

“This is definitely a gut-check win for us,” McCarthy said. “It just confirmed (our) ability to fight through adversity. This bunch has a lot of character. They’re tight. They enjoy one another.

“They just don’t blink.”

Count Rush atop the list of players who never flinched in the contest, the play not always clean but the result ultimately what he hoped for in years of preparing for this opportunity.

“You wait a long time,” Rush said. “You definitely dream about (this). It’s just as good as the dreams.”

Follow USA TODAY Sports' Jori Epstein on Twitter @JoriEpstein.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: ‘Like I belonged’: Cowboys QB Cooper Rush pulls off clutch performance after years of preparation

Crunching Cowboys stats: Anatomy of a total turnaround .
The numbers are beautiful this week for the Cowboys.To try and digest just how impressive this win was, here is a comparison of some of the key stats from each game.

See also