PHILADELPHIA – For four consecutive weeks, quarterback Cooper Rush was flawless in four consecutive starts in Dak Prescott's injury-induced absence.
The sixth-year backup quarterback having started the first five games of his NFL career had completed 63 of 105 passes (60.1 percent) for 687 yards, four touchdowns, and most importantly no interceptions and a 92.0 QB rating in these past four.
The Cowboys didn't have to ask too much of Rush. They played to their defense. They ran the ball somewhat effectively. Relied on some high level special teams play. And rarely fell behind, and if they did, not by much.
Who could ask for more, especially when they went on the road this past week to beat the LA Rams, 22-10, with Rush only having to throw for 101 yards and the Cowboys offense gaining just 10 first downs.
But here Sunday night at The Linc, the bubble burst. Unfortunately, that bubble actually exploded in the Cowboys' 26-17 loss to the still undefeated Eagles (6-0), and no matter the Cowboys intentions heading into their third NFC East contest, having won the first two, they fell hard to 4-2 and. And who would have thought it, into third place in the NFC East, now two games behind the Eagles and one game behind the now second place New York Giants (5-1).
"Yeah, slow start but we knew we just got to execute," Rush said after suffering the first loss in his sixth NFL career start, getting intercepted three times, leading to the Cowboys finishing a minus-3 in the turnover differential. "I think obviously the deciding factor."
The Cowboys offense got off to a slow start, since at the end of the first quarter, the Eagles methodically drove 80 yards in 15 plays to take a 7-0 lead just five seconds into the second quarter. And this became somewhat foreign territory for the Cowboys having to play from behind.
Then the roof caved in.
On the first play of the Cowboys ensuing possession, Rush tried going down the middle for Michael Gallup, barely open. Eagles cornerback James Bradberry undercut the throw, tipping the ball into the air for an easy pick by C.J. Gardner-Johnson at the Dallas 44.
"The first one was a bang-bang play," Rush said. "Ball bounces up in the air and you're like 'Oh crap.'"
And within four minutes the Cowboys were trailing 14-0, their largest deficit since the season-opening 19-3 loss to Tampa Bay. Eagles QB Jalen Hurts rolled out as if he was going to run and hit a wide open A.J. Brown for a 15-yard touchdown pass. Until that point the Cowboys never had given up more than one touchdown in each of their first five games.
Now the Cowboys needed offense. But after a failed fourth-down gamble led to a gimme Philadelphia field goal, Rush would get intercepted a second time, trying a deep throw over the middle for Gallup again, this time intercepted by Darius Slay at the Dallas 46. That led to another Eagles field goal, the Cowboys now trailing 20-0, the Eagles scoring more points in one quarter against the Cowboys than they had given up in any of their first five games.
"We gave them two or three short fields, versus a very good offense that they've got," Rush said.
At halftime, Rush had completed just five of 16 passes for 36 yards, two interceptions and a highly unfortunate QB rating of 1.0 That's right, 1.0, no typo, Hurts had the same number, though his 0 was between two 1s, as in 101.
But give Rush and the Cowboys credit. They were able to narrow the lead to 20-17 with nearly a quarter left to play, scoring 17 straight points on an Ezekiel Elliott 14-yard touchdown run, a Brett Maher field goal and Rush hitting rookie tight end Jake Ferguson with a seven-yard touchdown pass and run.
"You just got to keep playing ball," Rush said. "We know what we got on offense."
Just needed another stop, sort of play their complementary football that had worked so well to this point. Defense steps up and the offense replies. But not on this night.
The defense couldn't get that stop, the Eagles driving 75 yards on 13 playsfor a touchdown, though missing a two-point attempt, keeping the Cowboys within nine with 7:02 left.
The crazy thing was, the offensive line did a good enough job, Rush never getting sacked once, though hit four times but under pressure far too many times, having 12 passes defensed.
But here came Rush and the Cowboys again, marching from their own 25 to the 40. And on second-and-eight, Rush had CeeDee Lamb wide open down the left sideline, having lost the corner. Tnhis was going to b e a 60-yard touchdown.
And that line faltered at the wrong time, the Eagles knowing the Cowboys had to throw now every down.
Here came Eagles Brandon Graham, to that point only having registered one assisted tackle. No sacks. No QB hits. Until then
Graham beats Cowboys rookie left tackle Tyler Smith, hitting Rush just as he threw the ball, causing the ball to flutter and falling short of Lamb. Unfortunately, though not short enough, Gardner-Johnson making a diving pick for his second of the game and Rush's third interception with 5:03 to play.
"But it was just one of those games that was going to be a gritty game," Hargrave said. "We knew that those guys were going to fight to the end just like we were going to fight to the end. We needed a big play and I'm just happy to be able to be out there and still be able to make plays for the team and I'm just enjoying the moment."
As for Rush, he fell on his sword on that play, saying, "I obviously didn't get enough on it. Kind of got hit there. I obviously wanted that one back. It was a big one."
Sure was, since in the second half Rush had rebounded, completing 13 of 22 passes for 145 yards, one touchdown, but that darn one interception.
"I thought he did a good job hanging in there," McCarthy said of Rush. "Obviously the giveaways . . . you have to take care of the football. We'll learn from it and be better."