By Jeffrey Mansour
Despite the absence of star quarterback Dak Prescott the Dallas Cowboys squeaked out a 20-16 win over the Minnesota Vikings on the evening of Oct. 31. The victory was led by 2017 undrafted free agent Cooper Rush, who was making his first NFL start in place of Dallas’ customary elite passer.
Heading into Halloween night, Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott was questionable to start with a strained calf and fill-in Cooper Rush was on call in the event that Prescott was unable to go. With the release of Dallas’ inactives list 90 minutes prior to kickoff it was determined that Rush would be making his first career start in Minnesota that evening.
Most had little confidence in the Cowboys upon hearing the news that the centerpiece of their offense would not be playing. “My thoughts were that the Vikings would for sure take advantage of this and win this game,” Mt. Hebron junior Srijan Adhikary recounted.
It seemed these expectations would be satisfied as the Cowboys’ first half performance cannot be described as anything better than sluggish. Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins got off to a quick start, capping the opening drive with a 20-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Adam Thielen. The Cowboys answered with a missed 43-yard field goal by kicker Greg Zuerlein, and things didn’t get better from there.
On Dallas’ ensuing possession, Rush threw an ugly interception to free safety Xavier Woods. The Cowboys defense was able to compensate by holding the Vikings’ high-powered offense to just three points the rest of the half. Rush was able to muster a scoring drive for Dallas during the second quarter that culminated in a field goal, and the clubs headed into the locker rooms with Minnesota leading 10-3.
“He made a lot of mistakes in the first half,” Adhikary commented on Rush, who had no touchdowns and one interception at the break.
Despite showing almost nothing encouraging in the first half, Rush opened the second half with a 73-yard touchdown pass that hit wideout Cedrick Wilson perfectly in stride, and the Cowboys tied the game at 10.
Neither team could accumulate more than three points until the game’s final minutes, however. With the game tied at 13, Cousins led a lengthy drive that concluded with a 24-yard field goal by kicker Greg Joseph. With 2:51 left in regulation, Dallas was given the ball down by three.
Dallas was able to drive inside the Vikings’ 25-yard line prior to the two-minute warning behind two big gains by wide receiver Amari Cooper. Following the short break, a seemingly game-sealing fumble recovery by Vikings linebacker Anthony Barr was negated by a costly hands to the face penalty from safety Harrison Smith. Five plays later, Rush hit Cooper in the back of the end zone for a touchdown to take the lead 20-16. The Dallas defense held firm for the final 51 seconds of regulation, and Cooper Rush came out of his first NFL start victorious.
The Cowboys advanced to 6-1 with the victory and extended their win streak to six games; Rush’s 325 passing yards and two touchdowns certainly aided this cause.
“They showed that they do not need to rely on Dak to win,” Mt. Hebron junior Brandon Fox mentioned. “The team around him is also very good.”
Minnesota fell to 3-4 with the loss, making their postseason chances ever more slim. “The Vikings aren’t a playoff team,” Adhikary declared. “This team has no consistency whatsoever.”
Though the game will go down as just another Sunday Night Football showdown to most football fans, it will certainly be one for Cooper Rush to remember. It’s unknown whether he will ever get another opportunity like he did on Halloween night, but his performance–and the Cowboys as a team–has truly put the league on notice.