ARLINGTON, Texas – It took two minutes into Cooper Rush's postgame press conference for the Dallas Cowboys' fill-in starting quarterback to crack a smile.
"Are you excited?" a reporter asked after the Cowboys' last-second, 20-17 victory over the Cincinnati Bengals at AT&T Stadium.
"Yeah, definitely," Rush said. "Winning an NFL game is a lot of fun."
A lot more fun than the Cowboys were having seven days ago, when franchise quarterback Dak Prescott suffered a right thumb fracture requiring surgery and the offense couldn't find any traction against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, posting just three points in a disheartening 16-point home loss.
With Prescott inactive Sunday, the Cowboys (1-1) turned to Rush for the second time in the past 11 months. His first NFL start last Halloween was a last-second road victory over the Minnesota Vikings while Prescott was inactive with a calf strain.
Sunday, Rush provided a similar steady performance (19-of-31, 235 yards, one touchdown) that included driving the offense 33 yards in six plays to set up kicker Brett Maher's winning 50-yard field goal as time expired.
Afterward, Cowboys owner/general manager Jerry Jones said the team's turnaround from Sunday to Sunday was "one of the greatest feelings that I can remember in a long time."
"That's a big tonic for the disappointment we had last week," Jones said.
Rush led the way as he always has when called upon: by actions more than words.
The unassuming former undrafted quarterback might not say much. But as starting running back Ezekiel Elliott said during the week, "Coop knows his s--t."
The players and staff have faith in the 28-year-old Rush, who began his career as a teammate of Prescott and offensive coordinator Kellen Moore in 2017 and has been in some form of the Cowboys' offense since then.
Sunday, Moore scripted a gameplan that provided a balanced attack around Rush. The Cowboys ran the ball 27 times, a considerable jump from their 18 carries in Week 1 against Tampa Bay.
And head coach Mike McCarthy showed confidence in Rush and the depleted offense on the opening drive.
Facing fourth-and-2 from their 44-yard line, McCarthy keep the offense on the field. Rush found Noah Brown for a 17-yard gain to keep the drive going and hit Brown for a 9-yard touchdown six plays later.
"The fast start was key," Rush said. "We got up and let our D-Line kind of get after them. Starting fast was key and is something we talked about all week. We probably could have finished a little better in the second half, but in the end it worked out."
The Cowboys took a 14-3 lead in the first half by scoring on their first two drives. They managed only a field goal on their next seven series, and the Bengals tied the game in the final four minutes on a 19-play touchdown drive (and two-point conversion) that chewed up almost nine minutes.
But Rush settled in one more time.
After a 14-yard punt return by KaVontae Turpin got the offense the ball at their own 35, Rush found wide receiver CeeDee Lamb and Brown for three straight completions of eight, 12 and 10 yards. Two plays later, Maher delivered the winning field goal.
What did Rush tell the huddle before the final drive?
"I don't remember anything specifically," he said with a laugh. "It was probably, 'Let's go,' 'Here we go.' This is why we do it. This is our time. It's a fun, good group with tons of leaders all over the place. Not everyone needs to get hyped up. They know their job, they know what to do, and you just go play ball."
Said McCarthy, "That's Cooper Rush. We see that every day. He's the same -- he's so steady personality type. He never blinks."
For the second time in 11 months, the Cowboys again found a way to win without Prescott. After the game, Jones didn't want to speculate on an exact timetable for Prescott's return, though the Cowboys seem optimistic that he could be back sometime in the next three weeks. They chose not to place him on injured reserve last week, which would have required a four-week absence.
When asked about Prescott possibly returning in the next two to three weeks, Jones said, "I certainly would look to hope that he just might be available, but this performance out here today by Rush sure takes a lot of the angst out of that."
Until Prescott is back, the Cowboys will rely on Rush to lead the offense while also leaning on their defense, which sacked Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow six times on Sunday.
"Every time you're out there you just want to go play ball and do your job. Fortunately, I have a very good football team," Rush said. "That helps (having) great players around me, and you just want to keep getting better. In the end, it was only my second career start, so you just want to keep improving."