A win over a heated rival is always pretty … even when it's not.
The Dallas Cowboys' 23-16 victory over the New York Giants wasn't exactly a thing of beauty, the team sometimes its own worst enemy with self-inflicted miscues, but in the end the Cowboys' talent eventually came out on top.
And some of that talent, perhaps unexpectedly, was found behind center. For all the worry over the Cowboys having to again take the field with a backup quarterback, Cooper Rush showed once more than he can handle the spotlight, becoming the first player since the 1970 merger to lead three fourth quarter or overtime game-winning drives in his first three career starts.
Rush was steady throughout the night, completing 67.7 percent of his passes for 215 yards, one touchdown and no interceptions for a 98.2 passer rating. CeeDee Lamb, in a true up-and-down effort, finished with eight catches for 87 yards while Noah Brown added another 54 yards on five receptions.
The ground game also played its part with Tony Pollard rushing for 105 yards and Ezekiel Elliott churning out another 73. Together, they averaged 5.9 yards per carry.
Leading the defense in this showdown, at least in the early going, was defensive end DeMarcus Lawrence, as the veteran tallied three sacks, his first multi-sack game since Nov. 18, 2018, at Atlanta and his third career effort with at least three sacks. Unfortunately, Lawrence had to leave the game midway through the third quarter with a foot injury.
Even with Lawrence's absence, his defensive mates again proved formidable, having yet to surrender more than 19 points in any game this season. The unit sacked Giants quarterback Daniel Jones five times in the game, but actually pressured him on an impressive 24 snaps. Overall, they held New York to just 196 yards passing.
After their first drive stalled following a holding penalty, the Cowboys got a spark from their special teams when Dorance Armstrong burst through the right side of the Giants' line to block a 47-yard field goal attempt. That was the first field goal block for the team since Tyrone Crawford did so on Oct. 29, 2017, at Washington.
Dallas then promptly drove deep into New York territory before settling for a chip-shot 26-yard field goal to take the early lead.
The game was soon tied when the home side took the ensuing kickoff and marched 51 yards in 14 plays to the Cowboys' 24-yard line. There the Dallas defense held, the Giants forced to kick a 42-yard field goal.
In his Cowboys debut, nine-time Pro Bowler Jason Peters entered the game at left guard and on his very first snap opened a hole for Pollard that allowed the running back to scamper 46 yards to New York's 37. Dallas got as close as the 10-yard line, but after a missed Giants pass interference call in the end zone, the Cowboys had to settle for a 28-yard Brett Maher field goal.
Again, the Cowboys worked their way across midfield on their next possession, but a golden opportunity was lost when Rush found a wide-open Lamb deep across the middle, only to have the receiver drop the pass. Without the big gain, and perhaps even a touchdown, the Cowboys wound up having to punt.
In a fortunate bit of clock management, though, the Cowboys did give Maher a crack at a 59-yard field goal on the final snap of the half. But his effort sailed just wide left, the visitors entering the break with a slim 6-3 margin.
With the Cowboys seemingly controlling the first half but unable to create a comfortable lead, the Giants came out in the second half and took advantage of Dallas' missed chances.
After driving 42 yards on 10 plays on their opening series of the third quarter, kicker Graham Gano split the uprights from 51 yards out to even up the score. That was then followed on New York's next possession with the Giants going 77 yards to the end zone, the scoring blow coming on a 36-yard run by Saquon Barkley. The first rushing touchdown allowed by Dallas this season gave New York the lead, 13-6.
The Cowboys responded, however, by reaching pay dirt for the first time in the game. Rush started things off with a 17-yard connection to Lamb and then later added 29-yard and 12-yard completions to Peyton Hendershot and Brown, respectively. But it was Elliott who got the honors, bullying his way in from the 1-yard line for his first touchdown of the year.
And then Lamb found his much-needed redemption.
On their first drive of the fourth quarter, the Cowboys started at their own 11-yard line but thanks largely to four completions to No. 88 for 48 yards, Dallas crossed the goal line again. Rush connected with Lamb for a gain of 17, then on fourth-and-4 at the New York 41, the quarterback went back to the wideout for the first down.
The drive was capped when Lamb hauled in a pass for 26 yards before making a spectacular one-handed grab and getting his feet inbounds on the left side of the end zone for a 1-yard highlight-reel touchdown.
With the momentum fully behind the Cowboys, punt return specialist KaVontae Turpin set his side up with the ball at the Giants' 35-yard line with an electric 28-yard bring-back. That led to a 44-yard field goal from Maher, the advantage now 10 points, 23-13.
New York was able to respond with a 51-yard field goal, making it a one-possession game. And that's just what they got, one more possession to try to tie the score.
But any thoughts of a comeback were soon put to rest when Trevon Diggs scooped up an interception for his first pick of the season, the Cowboys moving to 2-1 on the year with another NFC East rival looming next week in the Washington Commanders.