"I thought he missed him. I thought he overthrew him."
That was former Cowboy Daryl Johnston's call on FOX of Amari Cooper's 58-yard catch in the third quarter seconds after it happened. Cooper managed to reach out and tip the ball with one hand before bringing it in. Down 12 points, the Cowboys needed a big play from their highest paid, most lethal downfield threat, and Cooper delivered in highlight fashion.
Minutes before Cooper's catch, the Falcons had tricked the Cowboys' defense with a pass from wide receiver Justin Gage to Julio Jones over the top of the defense. It could have potentially finished off the Cowboys, but Jones uncharacteristically dropped it. On one hand, you could say this proves that even the best receivers are human. But on the other hand, you might argue this is why Cooper belongs in every single conversation about who is the best receiver in football. In the first two games of 2020, Cooper has logged 16 receptions for 181 yards.
But the Cowboys didn't sign Cooper to a historically lucrative contract last offseason because he might make plays that would invite comparisons to other great players. They invested in Cooper because of how he personally reacts to a play like his highlight against the Falcons: With disappointment.
"I wish I would have been able to run full speed," a frustrated Cooper said on Thursday. "I couldn't do what I wanted to do. Obviously it would have been a touchdown."
Cooper said that a lingering foot injury decreased his speed and was the explanation for what seemed like an overthrow. "It's a lot better [now]," Cooper updated the media on Thursday. "I've been running full speed."
Cooper has proven that he's thrived to get better since he arrived in Dallas via trade from the Raiders, and his progress and chemistry with Dak Prescott has surely helped the quarterback's young career as well. Cooper's ability to make a catch like the one he made against Atlanta wasn't luck and athleticism. It was the result of conscious and deliberate practice.
"I practice one-handed catches [as if] I can only catch them with one hand," Cooper explained. "Usually it sticks. But it didn't stick. So I had to bobble it and catch it."
If improvement is a constant goal of Cooper's then this Sunday's game in Seattle will be a great opportunity. Throughout his career, he has performed drastically better at home than he has on the road. Despite playing one less game at home, he has nearly 1,000 more receiving yards at home than he does on the road. His catch percentage is worse on the road. He has exactly half as many touchdowns in opposing stadiums.
But he caught 10 passes against the Rams in Los Angeles in the season opener. A great showing against an undefeated Seahawks team could signal he's turning the corner as a road player, which would only make the Cowboys more dangerous.
Cooper knows that he's part of what could be the most effective receiving core in the league, and in a game when that gets fully unlocked, there might not be a team in the NFL that can keep up. CeeDee Lamb's 100-yard game against the Falcons was a reminder of just how dangerous they might be. Cooper, too, recorded 100 receiving yards in his second NFL game, and it was something he thought about in terms of Lamb's confidence after last Sunday. "That 100 yards is the code where a receiver can claim he had a good game," he said.
According to Cooper, a game that features a touchdown from him, Lamb, and Michael Gallup as well as 100-yard performances from all three is more than possible.
"I know it can happen," Cooper said. "I know it can happen often. And when it does, I know how lethal we can be."