Start fast, finish strong, let's celebrate!
It may have been a tale of two halves, but in the end the Dallas Cowboys got a much-needed 20-17 victory over the Cincinnati Bengals thanks to the mighty right leg of kicker Brett Maher, who sent the fans home happy with a 50-yard field goal as time expired.
Through the first two quarters of the Cowboys' matchup against the Bengals, Dallas could almost do no wrong. But an offense that seemed to be firing on all cylinders sputtered in the second half, allowing the visitors to come back and tie the score late in the game.
At the half, the Cowboys owned a 17-3 advantage and had outgained Cincinnati 227 yards to 84. The defense had sacked Joe Burrows four times, and while they kept the pressure up, sacking the Bengals quarterback six times overall in the game, Dallas was outgained 170 yards to just 67 in the second half before the Cowboys took the field for the final time.
Cowboys fans were collectively wringing their hands with the loss of Dak Prescott last week, but Cooper Rush stepped in, and just like in his start last year at Minnesota, the first of his career, he led his team to the win. The backup quarterback completed 61.3 percent of his passes for 235 yards, one touchdown and no interceptions for a 95.5 passer rating.
Noah Brown led the way with five catches for 91 yards, nearly all of them coming at key moments in the game. CeeDee Lamb also added 75 receiving yards with Tony Pollard totaling 98 yards from scrimmage.
On the other side of the ball, Micah Parsons continued his onslaught with another two-sack performance while safety Donovan Wilson led the team with eight tackles and linebacker Leighton Vander Esch finished with seven tackles and a sack.
Who had this on their bingo card? The Cowboys' first touchdown of the year came on a 9-yard pass from Rush to Brown. And this came after head coach Mike McCarthy went for it on fourth-and-2 from his own 44-yard line, a 17-yard pass also from Rush to Brown moving the chains. Dallas couldn't have asked for a better start as the quarterback completed 5 of 6 passes for 42 yards with Ezekiel Elliott and Pollard rushing a combined five times for 30 more.
Cincinnati got on the board with a 43-yard field goal, helped in part by a questionable unnecessary roughness call on Anthony Barr, but the Cowboys bounced right back with another score. Pollard took a short pass on the left side, then turned on the jets for a 47-yard gain down to the 1. He then deservedly got the honors on the next snap, Dallas jumping out to a 14-3 lead.
The Cowboys reaching the end zone on each of their first two offensive drives marked the first time the team has done so since Oct. 20, 2019, against the Philadelphia Eagles.
For all the offensive fireworks in the first quarter, the second frame was more subdued. The Dallas defense did the heavy lifting, forcing three punts, with Dorance Armstrong getting his second sack of the day for the first multi-sack game of his career.
Kavontae Turner also provided a spark just before the half with a weaving 20-yard punt return. That led to a 54-yard field goal by Maher with 14 seconds remaining, the Cowboys going into the break with a 14-point advantage.
The Bengals made it a one possession game with field goals on each of their first two series of the second half. They got some help on the first one when the Cowboys were called for a neutral zone infraction on fourth-and-4 at the Cincinnati 41-yard line. That brought a fresh set of downs and led to a 50-yard field goal. Bengals kicker Evan McPherson then split the uprights from 46 yards out on the visitor's next try.
Needing to find their offensive rhythm again, the Cowboys were on the move and had reached the Cincinnati 35-yard line. But that's when tight end Dalton Schultz had the ball knocked loose, the Bengals' DJ Reader falling on the prize to stop the Dallas threat.
With the Cowboys defense starting to tire, the Bengals went on a lengthy 19-play, 83-yard drive that not only reached the end zone, but also ate up a whopping 8:54 of clock. The big blow came on a fourth-and-6 at the Dallas 27-yard line when an 8-yard slant to Ja'Marr Chase gave the Bengals the first down.
Four plays later, Burrows threw a dart to Tee Higgins on the right side of the end zone for the touchdown. Cincinnati then went for the two-point conversion and tied the game after Burrows found a wide-open Tyler Boyd.
Failing to do anything on their next possession, the Cowboys got the ball back again with 57 seconds left at their own 35-yard line after a 14-yard punt return by Turpin. Cooper then hit Lamb for 8 yards, Brown for 12 yards and then back to Lamb for 10 more.
After a handoff to Pollard, out came Maher for his heroics, his 50-yard field kick slipping just inside the right upright as the clock hit zeroes to give Dallas its first win of the season.