Dallas Cowboys backup quarterback Cooper Rush lived out a fantasy most will only grasp at during their nightly reveries. Rush started for an injured Dak Prescott and led America's Team on a game-winning drive on the road in prime time against the Minnesota Vikings.
"Yeah, you definitely dream about them, and it's just as good as the dream," Rush said after the 20-16 victory. "It's pretty awesome to be able to show everyone and to be able to win like that. You always want to win like that."
Rush made his first career NFL start after going undrafted in 2017 out of Central Michigan. He signed with the Cowboys as a rookie, but attempted only three career pass attempts entering Sunday night -- all coming in 2017.
In his first career start, Rush punctured a Mike Zimmer defense for 325 passing yards, two passing TDs and a 92.2 passer rating. Rush became the first QB to throw 300-plus passing yards and win his first NFL start in a prime-time road game since Gary Hogeboom for the Cowboys in Week 1, 1984 -- Hogeboom was drafted in the sixth round of the 1980 NFL Draft by the Cowboys out of Central Michigan.
Rush overcame some bumps in the road, including an interception and a fumble. On the final drive, he made a couple of great tosses, got some help from a miraculous Amari Cooper deflected reception down the sideline, and hit Cooper on a gorgeous ball in the back corner of the end zone for the go-ahead score.
With the game on the line, the Cowboys didn't lean on the run game. No, Mike McCarthy and Kellen Moore put the ball in Rush's hands. The QB rewarded that faith.
"Yeah, I was glad everybody got to see that because that's Cooper Rush," McCarthy said of the game-winning drive. "I think that's a real strength of him. He plays the quarterback position like a seasoned veteran that's played 10, 12 years in the league. That's the man I get to see every day. He's very steady, very intelligent. He's a great teammate."
McCarthy added that it was a "gut-check win" for the Cowboys, who were playing without Prescott for the first time this season due to a calf injury.
Rush didn't look like Prescott on Sunday night -- no backup would -- and there were a few missed throws and the forced interception early. But unlike some other backup quarterbacks the Cowboys have tossed into the fray in recent years, Rush didn't get overwhelmed even when things weren't going well.
"It wasn't crazy. I felt like I belonged out there," Rush said. "We were in the huddle, breaking the huddle, getting in line and going through your processes, it didn't feel overwhelming at all. I think I haven't played a lot, but being around the NFL, you're going against those guys every day, and our defense is pretty good. You're going against those guys every day, it's not like you're not seeing things, so it never felt too big in terms of speed or like -- I just felt like in command. Playing with those guys that I get to play with out there, just go down the list, O-line, running back, receiver, makes my job a lot easier."
It helped that the Cowboys have an offense to buffer the first-time starter. Cooper made a few great catches en route to 122 yards and a TD. CeeDee Lamb continued to terrorize cornerbacks going for 112 yards on six catches. Cedrick Wilson took a great Rush pass over the middle for a 73-yard TD to give the Cowboys life early. And Ezekiel Elliott powered his way for a massive first down on a dump-off on third-and-11 to set up the game-winning score.
"Like I said, unbelievable players," Rush said. "Makes my job easy when you look out there and you're like, oh, he's going to win, he's going to win on that route, and you just cut it loose and he's there. Those guys up front did a heck of a job, obviously. Ran the ball really well in the first half. Protection was great all day, so makes the QB's job a lot easier."
Also, having a defense that smothered everything the Vikings attempted on the ground and through the air helped.
Sunday night's prime-time victory proved that this is a much different Cowboys team than the one that put up points with Dak last season, then got manhandled when he got hurt. No, Dallas is a complete team in 2021.
Complete with a backup QB it can trust to grind out a win in a pinch.