Cooper Rush’s first NFL start was a statement victory for the surging Dallas Cowboys with starting quarterback Dak Prescott stuck on the sideline.
With every opportunity to outlast the fill-in for the first-place team on the other side, Kirk Cousins and the Minnesota Vikings withered down the stretch.
Rush subbed for the injured Prescott and passed for 325 yards and two second-half touchdowns, the last a 5-yard throw to Amari Cooper with 51 seconds left in the Cowboys’ 20-16 victory over the Vikings on Sunday night.
“It was just as good as the dream,” Rush said.
Rush, the fifth-year backup handed the offense when Prescott was shelved in a game-time decision due to a strained right calf muscle, directed an eight-play, 75-yard drive he finished with a perfect toss to Cooper on a fade in the corner of the end zone.
“I was glad everybody got to see that, because that’s Cooper Rush,” coach Mike McCarthy said. “He plays the quarterback position like a seasoned veteran.”
Cooper had eight catches for 122 yards, and CeeDee Lamb had six receptions for 112 yards for the Cowboys (6-1), whose only lead came in that final minute. Rush connected with Cedrick Wilson for a 73-yard score on the third play of the third quarter to tie the game at 10.
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“Trust the matchups on the outside,” Cooper said he kept telling Rush. “These guys can’t guard us.”
Rush overcame two turnovers, both delivered by former Dallas safety Xavier Woods, to slice up the Minnesota secondary as Prescott watched approvingly from the sideline.
Kirk Cousins and the Vikings (3-4) were frequently in disarray on offense, after opening the game with 75-yard march for a touchdown pass to Adam Thielen. Greg Joseph kicked three field goals to keep them in front for most of the night, but the Vikings totaled only 278 yards against a defense that was allowing the second-highest yards-per-play average in the NFL entering the week.
Cousins finished 23 for 35 for 184 yards, too often settling for the short dump-off option rather than pushing the ball up the field to Thielen and fellow star Justin Jefferson. Dalvin Cook had 18 carries for 78 yards, but he never found a rhythm because of all the fits and starts.
The Vikings converted only one of 13 third downs and had eight of 12 possessions last only five plays or fewer. Woods had an interception in the second quarter and forced a fumble with his first career sack in the fourth quarter, but the Vikings didn’t score after either of those gifts.
“It was a combination of coverage and pressure,” Cousins said.
Cowboys defensive coordinator Dan Quinn had a masterful game plan that was nearly undone by a lack of discipline by his group. The defense accounted for nine of the team’s 11 penalties, including three unnecessary roughness calls during the 69-yard drive by the Vikings to take the lead on Joseph’s 24-yard kick. Nearly half of those yards came from penalties.
“Every game we just hang around, hang around, hang around, let the team hang around, instead of just putting our foot on the gas and going,” Thielen said.
Wilson blew by Mackensie Alexander on a post route for his third touchdown of the season to bring the Cowboys out strong in the second half. Later in the third quarter, he had a big hand on a drive that ended with a field goal by Greg Zuerlein that tied the game at 13. He drew a pass interference penalty on Alexander that netted 14 yards. Then on a trick play, Wilson took a handoff, scurried around in the backfield to avoid a big loss and found Lamb for a 35-yard completion.
“I can’t say enough about him,” McCarthy said. “He’s outstanding.”
According to NFL research, Rush became the first player to pass for 300-plus yards and win in his first career start on the road in a night game since Gary Hogeboom did it for Dallas in the 1984 season opener. Both Rush and Hogeboom hail from Central Michigan.
NO PICKS FOR DIGGS
Cowboys cornerback Trevon Diggs had his season-opening NFL-record-tying interception streak stopped at six straight games, and the younger brother of former Vikings wide receiver Stefon Diggs had a rough night.
Diggs took two penalties while covering Justin Jefferson, a blatant pass interference for tugging the back of his jersey in the first quarter on a third down throw and an illegal contact in the third quarter. Diggs also lost Thielen on a 32-yard bootleg completion by Cousins on fourth-and-1 in the second quarter that set up the first of two field goals by Greg Joseph. Diggs also sprained his ankle late in the game.
Cowboys: LT Tyron Smith (ankle), who was listed as questionable to play, aggravated the injury in the second quarter and was ruled out for the rest of the game. Ty Nsekhe took his place. ... Backup LB Jabril Cox (knee) left in the third quarter after getting hurt on the punt team.
Vikings: DE Danielle Hunter (shoulder) was hurt in the second quarter and ruled out at halftime for the remainder of the game. He’ll have an MRI exam on Monday. ... CB Patrick Peterson (hamstring) was injured in the last game prior to the bye and will miss at least two more games. DT Michael Pierce (elbow) sat out for the third straight game.
Cowboys: Host Denver (4-4) on Sunday.
Vikings: At Baltimore (5-2) on Sunday.