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Spagnola: All McCarthy's Men Beat Long Odds


ARLINGTON, Texas – How 'bout them apples?

  • No Dak.
  • No Gallup.
  • No Tyron, nor Connor McGovern.
  • No Jayron Kearse.
  • No Bash.
  • No wins, be it just one game into the 2022 season.
  • No touchdowns.
  • No red zone penetrations.
  • Against all odds.
  • Ha, no problem.
  • Cowboys 20, Bengals 17 in Game 2.
  • Sometimes it goes like this, with apologies to that 1960s' TV show Candid Camera: "When you least expect it, you're elected, you're the star today."
  • Meet Cooper Rush.
  • Meet Noah Brown.
  • Meet Brett Maher.
  • Meet Tyler Smith and Matt Farniok and Terence Steele.
  • Meet Sam Williams.
  • Meet Jake Ferguson.
  • Meet Dorance Armstrong.
  • Meet Anthony Barr and Dante Fowler Jr.
  • Meet Bryan Anger.
  • Meet KaVontae Turpin, the littlest Cowboy of all.
  • Talk about All McCarthy's Men.

Hey, we expect the likes of Micah Parsons and CeeDee Lamb and Ezekiel Elliot and Tony Pollard and Leighton Vander Esch and DeMarcus Lawrence and Zack Martin and Trevon Diggs and Anthony Brown to carry the load.

But for the Cowboys to beat the defending AFC champs, to hold Joe Burrow and them to just 17 points, to give up just one touchdown – just the second in two games – to stop the now 0-2 Bengals on a three-and-out with 1:09 left in a 17-17 game, then drive 33 yards to the Cincinnati 32 to set up Maher's game-winning 50-yard field goal, the Cowboys needed every one of the 45 guys on this 48-man game-day roster to play and maybe most of the 92,944 screamin' fans at AT&T Stadium to beat the huge odds piled up against them.

"It never gets old. There's nothing like winning, there's nothing like the celebration in the locker room," Mike McCarthy said after the Cowboys evened their record after two games with the undefeated Giants (2-0) up next Monday night in the Meadowlands. "There's nothing like the joy on the players' and coaches' faces and the support staff and everybody.

"Yeah, there's nothing like winning."

As pointed out on Friday, the Cowboys certainly were stretching the outer limits of "next man up." Yeah buddy, but the next men up came to the Cowboys rescue in the nick of time.

Where do we start?

How 'bout with Maher, the kicker, not only booting the game-winner from 50 yards out, the third winner of his short career, but earlier in the game making a 54-yarder, too. And to think this guy wasn't on the Cowboys roster until Aug. 9 and not declared the winner of the various kicking competitions until Aug. 23 when the Cowboys released Lirim Hajrullahu and Maher was the last man standing.

Give that man the game ball.

How 'bout "Coop," the backup quarterback starting his second NFL game in place of the injured Dak Prescott, who by the way was seen running onto the field for pregame warmups with the quarterbacks, and with a protective covering on his surgically repaired right hand already palming a football. All Rush did was complete 19-of-31 passes for 235 yards, one 9-yard touchdown pass to Brown, only the fourth quarterback in club history to win his first two starts in non-strike games.

More importantly, with those precious 57 seconds left and standing on his own 35-yard line – thanks to the rookie Turpin's 14-yard punt return he almost broke – Coop completed three of three passes for 30 yards before spiking the ball with three seconds left at the Bengals' 32. Why, he also drove the Cowboys to their first two touchdowns of the season on the first two drives of the game, something the Cowboys had not done in the previous 43 games, going back to Week 7 of 2019.

And in typical Rush fashion, in the glory of victory, all he said was, "Winning an NFL game is a lot of fun."

Come on, man. But then that's why he has the composure to do what he do.

Then there is Brown, for five seasons but a bit wide receiver/special teams player always seemingly dealing with injuries. Well, how about five catches for a career-high 91 yards, and an acrobatic catch for that 9-yard TD, the first of his career.

Then there is Lamb, seven catches for 75 yards, two of those for 18 yards on the game-winning drive. And this was the guy catching grief for his two catches in the opener making his debut as a No. 1 receiver.

Led by the Ezekiel Elliott-Tony Pollard combo's 96 yards rushing, the team that couldn't run across the street in the first game went for 107 in this one, Pollard registering the Cowboys' first rushing touchdown of the season on a 1-yard plunge after jetting 46 yards on what became a forward pitch from Rush.

And none of this would have been possible if not for a fine performance by an offensive line that included rookie Tyler Smith at left tackle making his second NFL start and Matt Farniok at left guard making his first NFL start after just 23 snaps in last year's rookie season. Rush was sacked but once and hit but five times.

"They did a heck of a job," said Rush, watching from his ringside seat in his second career win in as many starts. "We really ran the rock."

And now, for the knockout punch, how 'bout that defense. Yep, the one that has now held both opponents to less than 20 points (19 and 17), just two touchdowns – one in each game against two of the top quarterbacks in the NFL – and that potent Bengals offense to just 254 yards. That matches the fewest touchdowns the Cowboys have yielded in the opening two games of a season since 1996.

McCarthy was right. The Cowboys needed to play complementary football, play to their defense, the one harassing Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow into six sacks and hitting him passing another nine times, causing Burrow, who now has been sacked 13 times in two games after being brutalized 70 times last season (including the playoffs) to admit, "They have a great rush. I would say top two or three best rushers in the league. They've got DeMarcus Lawrence, Micah … they're a really good defense. Good secondary, good rush. Not our day."

That's because Parsons had a field day out there terrorizing those Cincinnati tackles, especially former Cowboys starter La'el Collins, who showed why Dallas let him go in the offseason in favor of starting Steele. Parsons finished with two sacks, now in back-to-back games, four tackles, two for losses and five quarterback hits.

He was coming from every which way, causing the Bengals to play a game of "find Waldo" when it came to No. 11, whose 17 career sacks in his first 18 games is the most in NFL history since sacks became an official stat in 1982. Then throw in Armstrong's first multiple-sack game of his career (two), a Fowler sack, Lawrence's six tackles, eight from Donovan Wilson playing all 70 defensive snaps at safety with Kearse out, then seven tackles, a sack, a TFL, a QB hit and a pass defensed from Vander Esch, continuing to turn the clock back to his rookie year.

Even the rookie defensive end Williams had a TFL, dropping Cincy running back Joe Mixon (19 carries, 57 yards) for a 2-yard loss. And don't forget Anger's booming punts, four finishing inside the 20, one of those hitting the video board high above that replay couldn't detect.

Oh, and welcome to Dallas, Anthony Barr – six tackles, one TFL and a complete menace out there.

Plus, that secondary of Trevon Diggs, Anthony Brown, Jourdan Lewis, Malik Hooker and Wilson held the usually unstoppable Ja'Marr Chase to five catches for 54 yards, his longest 17. And let's not forget the third-down tackle Diggs made on Tyler Boyd at the Bengals' 16-yard line, holding him to just a yard gained and forcing Cincinnati to punt back to Turpin with 1:09 left to set up the game-winning drive.

And you know what? If it wasn't for that personal foul on Barr for roughing on a late-sliding Burrow on third-and-8 after a 3-yard run, the Bengals would not have kicked that first 43-yard field goal. The second field goal came complements of rookie Devin Harper's neutral zone infraction with the Bengals punting on fourth-and-4, the 5 yards enabling Cincy to continue that drive in the third quarter.

Oh, and if not for the Dalton Schultz lost fumble at the Bengals' 26, this game might never have come down to those final seconds had the Cowboys scored on that possession when they had already picked up the first down.

Hence, there you go, a rough summation of the Cowboys needing this athletic village to survive the first of at least four games without Dak, the second of many without Tyron Smith, the second without Gallup, the first of a few without McGovern and Kearse and the first of four without Basham (IR).

"I actually went to chapel yesterday," Parsons began. "The chapelman said, 'You have to go through tests to get your testimony.' When I heard that, I was like, wow, we're going through all of these injuries. … Sometimes, you have to go through some stuff before you get to where you want to go.

"Right now, we're still going through the storm. But as we go through the storm, there is going to be light at the end of the tunnel. I think that's where we are headed."

With all McCarthy's men aboard.

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