FRISCO, Texas - Having a really good backup quarterback in the NFL is paradoxical. After all, and particularly when speaking about the Dallas Cowboys, the team would be labeled neglectful and lazy for having not found a capable QB to prepare behind Dak Prescott - in the event Cooper Rush wasn't able to help win games from Week 2 to now.
But he's not lost one yet, having gone 4-0 in his first four NFL starts, and though that should mean the Cowboys get a digital high-five for sticking with him (including re-signing him after they parted ways with him in 2020 in the failed Andy Dalton experiment), it apparently doesn't.
To many, from talking heads to the fans who religiously teeter on every word they speak into a microphone, it somehow now means Prescott is disposable.
Surely, I jest, yes?
Nope. I am serious, and don't call me Shirley.
It's a laughable concept to me, to be honest, that there's no middle ground in this discussion, and it's in the middle ground that the truth can be found. It's both true that Rush has proven himself one of the best backup quarterbacks in the NFL and that Prescott is still the better of the two, despite what recency bias would have you believe - e.g., an 0-1 Prescott versus a 3-0 Rush in 2022.
Well, how's about a 53-33 Prescott versus a 4-0 Rush? Or maybe 22,217 passing yards and 143 touchdowns to 1,161 passing yards and seven touchdowns??
"Well, if Rush were given the same chance as Prescott…" - You, probably
And when did you want him to get that chance? In 2017, 2018, 2019, 2020 or 2021??
Point of clarity: were you one who kept pleading with the Cowboys to add veteran QB talent, annually, behind Prescott and who applauded when Dalton arrived, and Rush was jettisoned two seasons ago?
And, as recently as in this past training camp, were you onboard with that same plan of signing a veteran because you felt the win by Rush in Minnesota was because he had the triumvirate of Amari Cooper, CeeDee Lamb and Michael Gallup at wide receiver??
I'll readily admit I wondered aloud in "The Science Lab: Week 2" just how long Rush's rope would be, but I also noted that (before he took a single snap in 2022) he was capable of getting the Cowboys in the win column (feel free to check out that receipt) and, as it turns out, we'll never find out how long or short his rope was because he's undefeated heading into the Week 5 matchup with the Los Angeles Rams.
I mean, really, the Cowboys couldn't have asked for a better scenario from their QB2 - one every team wishes would happen if/when their QB1 goes down with injury - but giving roses to Rush (and you should do exactly that) doesn't mean you have to pretend Prescott isn't a record-setting quarterback who also just two seasons removed from throwing for 4,902 passing yards to 30 touchdowns and only 11 interceptions.
That was only two yards shy of breaking Tony Romo's single-season franchise record in passing yards, but with two more touchdowns and eight fewer interceptions than Romo. And he did it with an aging Randall Cobb as his WR3, nearly making Cobb the team's third 1,000-yard receiver that season.
But let's dig a little deeper, because even Rush chuckled at comments made by owner and general manager Jerry Jones - Jones saying he'd love a QB controversy.
"He dreams bigger than I do," Rush said while wearing an awkward grin following Jones' comments.
What was missed in Jones' statement was the fact he wants his backup QB to play so well that it invites the conversation, and that's exactly what Rush has done, but that's another story.
Circling back to the science of it all, this is also the same Prescott who was dominating the league pre-Amari, literally setting records without a single 1,000-yard receiver in his first three NFL seasons and with the noticeably (and famously) conservative play-calling of former offensive coordinator Scott Linehan (until 2019) and head coach Jason Garrett (until 2020).
And when the club parted ways with former All-Pro wideout Dez Bryant following the 2017 season in favor of an unproductive WR-by-committee approach, Prescott was strapped to players like Allen Hurns, Deonte Thompson and a version of Tavon Austin (remember them?) that was mostly a shell of his former self, along with an inconsistent (plus injured and later suspended) Terrance Williams.
Ezekiel Elliott ended up being the team's third-best receiver that year, delivering 567 receiving yards, and he's the running back.
So while the blockbuster trade for Cooper in October 2018 did help the Cowboys get their passing game back on track over the second half of that campaign, Prescott had already shown in his first several seasons that he had the ability to win a lot of games in the NFL; and that he could do it without an elite defense, one that appears to be leveled up over the record-setting version from 2021.
You remember that one, don't you? The one that absolutely owned the regular season thanks largely to Dan Quinn's coordination and breakout seasons from Micah Parsons and Trevon Diggs, but the very one that then allowed the San Francisco 49ers and Debo Samuel to have their way at AT&T Stadium in the home playoff game.
Wouldn't you love to see what a healthy, hungry and angry Prescott could do with Lamb, [a returned] Gallup and a career-best rendering of Noah Brown?
I know I would, and so should you.
In 2022, as Rush himself readily confesses, it's the defense that's the true driving force behind the current 3-1 record, an admission that's impossible to dispute when you factor in how the offense is still averaging just 17.5 points per game (fifth-worst in the league) while the defense has yet to allow 20 in any contest, also leading the NFL in sacks and QB pressures.
That means there's nothing Rush is doing that's leaps and bounds beyond what Prescott has done over the course of his career and, and that's what would have to occur for there to be an actual QB controversy in Dallas.
But he hasn't, and there isn't.
There are no 500-yard games to gawk at slack-jawed, no 400-yard games to leverage against Prescott and no 300-yard games to account for. Rush's season-high in yardage is the 235 yards and one touchdown tossed in the win over the Cincinnati Bengals, and he's averaging just 224.3 passing yards and 1.3 touchdowns per game.
It's his lack of interceptions and fumbles (zero in both categories) that keep the Cowboys in position to win, along with some timely big plays, giving the special teams and defense a chance to close things out as they have attempted to do all season and will continue to do going forward.
And I could note here how many 300- or 400-yard games Prescott has in his career, or the fact he was in the MVP conversation not so long ago, but there's no point in beating a deceased equine.
At this point, you get the picture and, if you don't, it's because you refuse to sign for it.
And am I saying Prescott will hit the ground running when he returns, after having the worst game of his career in Week 1? Nope, because while that would be preferable, if there are wrinkles to iron out in his return, do it in October and not the all-important months of November, December and possibly January - when the games matter most.
What Rush has shown the world is that he's better than the QB combination of Brandon Weeden, Matt Cassel and Kellen Moore (the player), a trio that went a combined 1-11 in the absence of an injured Romo in 2015.
What he has also shown is that, given an elite defense and special teams, and a some fortuitous penalties by the opposing defense (see Week 4 for reference), he has the wherewithal and cool demeanor to overcome adversity and not cut his own defense (and special teams) off at the knees with gut-wrenching mistakes.
It also helps that rookie left tackle Tyler Smith is playing right now like Prescott wishes Chaz Green did when Tyron Smith went down with injury in 2017, and Jason Peters at left guard is what Jonathan Cooper could never have been in 2017, the combo of Green and Cooper helping to fuel the infamous "The Burning of Atlanta" against the Falcons and blitzkrieg sent weekly at Prescott that season by opposing defenses.
And still the Cowboys went 9-7, despite it all, including Elliott being suspended six games.
Lastly, what Rush has shown is that the lot of you now calling for him to be the next Kurt Warner were wrong for trying desperately to permanently wish him away as recently as this past August, now commanding your respect and admiration, even if you've now suddenly gone too far across the farm.
In other words, what Rush has shown is that, and I'd like you to say this with me, slowly and with purposeful intent: he is a very good and capable backup quarterback.
But, bottom line, when Prescott is fully healthy, that quarterback will have to back up.