Cowboys thrilled with how Cooper Rush has performed in the limelight

FRISCO, Texas – Two years ago, the Dallas Cowboys did not think Cooper Rush was good enough to be one of their quarterbacks.

Now, as starter Dak Prescott recovers from a fractured right thumb suffered in the season-opening loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Rush has given them hope with two wins. And he enters Sunday’s game against the Washington Commanders (1 p.m. ET, Fox) looking to do something no Cowboys quarterback has ever done (more on that later).

Sometimes it is funny how things work out.

The Cowboys might want send a thank you to the New Orleans Saints too.

According to multiple sources, the Cowboys were in discussions in the offseason with veteran free-agent quarterback Andy Dalton about a return to Dallas to back up Prescott. Then the Saints offered Dalton a deal worth up to $6 million that he could not refuse.

And Rush, originally signed by Dallas in 2017 as an undrafted free agent out of Central Michigan, remained in the mix.

In 2020, the Cowboys signed Dalton to a one-year deal worth up to $7 million to be Prescott’s backup. In the seventh round of the 2020 draft, they selected quarterback Ben DiNucci. Roughly two weeks later, they waived Rush.

“You are looking at it as more of a [QB]1 and [QB]2, and develop the third type [of quarterback] format,” coach Mike McCarthy said. “A lot of that went into that decision.”

The New York Giants (with Rush’s former Cowboys head coach Jason Garrett as offensive coordinator at the time), claimed him off waivers but ended up releasing him from the practice squad after three games.

Rush returned to Texas with his family and worked out at Exos, a training facility not far from The Star. He had a tryout with the Houston Texans, but with Prescott out for the season with a dislocated ankle and Dalton suffering from a concussion, the Cowboys signed Rush to the practice squad and Garrett Gilbert to their active roster off the Cleveland Browns' practice squad.

“At that point, you want to get back in a building no matter where it was,” Rush said “And obviously being here, a fortunate situation knowing [offensive coordinator] Kellen [Moore], knowing a lot of the guys, knowing the staff, so it was obviously a good fit. At that point you just want to get back in -- P[ractice] squad, on a team, whatever worked, because once you’re in, at least you have a chance.”

DiNucci struggled in his only start, and Gilbert started against the Pittsburgh Steelers and played well enough to put him on track to be Prescott’s No. 2 in 2021.

During the 2021 training camp, Gilbert took all of the first-team snaps while Prescott dealt with a right latissimus strain that kept him out of the preseason games. Gilbert started three of the first four preseason games, but Rush got the call for the last preseason game. Against the Texans, he completed 4 of 8 passes for 16 yards.

The Cowboys kept Rush as the backup and released Gilbert.

Even this summer, there was talk of Will Grier winning the No. 2 job, but a groin injury curtailed his preseason action and kept Rush in the lead as Prescott’s backup. Heck, the Cowboys released Rush at the end of the preseason in a "wink-wink, nod-nod" move for some roster flexibility. Technically, he could have gone anywhere else, but there was an agreement in place to stay, and he wasn’t going to get a better opportunity elsewhere.

Through it all, Rush figured out how to survive.

“You learned a lot mentally, how to deal with things. There’s stories like that all around an NFL locker room,” Rush said. “Just kinda what this league is about, you’re going to get knocked down. It’s about coming back, learning from it and moving on.”

Last season, Rush won his first NFL start, throwing a touchdown pass to Amari Cooper with 51 seconds left to beat the Minnesota Vikings in Week 8 with Prescott out with a calf strain. In Week 2 this season, he beat the defending AFC champion Cincinnati Bengals, completing three passes on the final drive to set up a game-winning field goal.

Last week, under the lights of ESPN’s Monday Night Football, he threw a fourth-quarter touchdown pass to CeeDee Lamb to beat another team that didn’t think he was good enough, the Giants.

With a win against the Commanders, he would become the first Cowboys quarterback to win the first four starts of a career.

“I think you have recognize how he’s played the quarterback position,” McCarthy said. “He’s played very well the last two weeks. He’s in total command of the offense. We’ve been a full template as far as the things you try to get in and out of, and that’s a credit to him.”

In his two starts this season, he has completed 40 of 62 passes for 450 yards and two scores. His stats are modest, but his demeanor has won over his teammates. They have called him poised and composed. The game has not been too big for him. Neither have the trappings of this success.

After beating the Giants, he calmly walked to the locker room, requiring a public relations assistant to chase him down for an on-field postgame interview.

“If you need a hype man or a hype speech, I’m not the guy,” Rush said. “But in the huddle and out there, try to stay in command, stay poised. That works at the quarterback position.”

Ezekiel Elliott went to Twitter and called him, ‘Cooper Clutch,’ which defensive tackle Quinton Bohanna coined on the sideline Monday night.

“The confidence just keeps growing with him, which is awesome,” All-Pro right guard Zack Martin said. “However long it takes Dak to get back, these are huge games to get, and last year was big when he came in in that Minnesota game. That built some confidence, and then these last two weeks, just continue to grow. This football team has got a ton of confidence in No. 10 when he’s out there.”

Soon, Prescott will be back -- maybe as early as next Sunday against the Los Angeles Rams -- and Rush will move back into the shadow.

If Rush is needed again at some point after Prescott returns, he will be ready. And the Cowboys won’t fret.

“He just does a really good job of playing the game, playing each situation, handling the highs and lows,” Moore said. “He does a tremendous job of that throughout the games. You can just see the confidence, and I think anytime you see a QB take his drop, plant his back foot, see it, trust it and let it rip, that’s confidence right there. You’re seeing a lot of that in Coop right now.”