FRISCO - So far, so perfect.
Not that the Dallas Cowboys want to make a habit of trying to win games without $160 million-dollar quarterback Dak Prescott. But Cooper Rush again proved Sunday he's more than an adequate temporary place-holder.
Call him the Ginger Man. Call him a bus driver. Just be sure to call him 2-0. He's the fifth quarterback in Cowboys history to win the first two starts of his career, joining Roger Staubach, Danny White, Kevin Sweeney and Jason Garrett.
Early in the 20-17 win over the Cincinnati Bengals, CBS analyst Tony Romo offered a Rush gush:
"He has improved his throwing mechanics. He’s got a great base in the pocket. He knows the game and he gets through (his progressions) quickly, and he lets it go. He’s not scared. He’s tough. He can take a hit.”
Rush then went out and proved Romo and the Cowboys - who made him No. 2 over Will Grier and declined to make some wacko move (Cam Newton, Ben Rothlisberger and Colin Kaepernick come to mind) during Prescott's injury - right.
He wasn't perfect in replacing Prescott and his thumb. But, just like last Halloween in Minnesota, he was clutch when it counted.
With Prescott out with a strained calf last season against the Vikings, Rush led Dallas to a 20-16 win with an eight-play, 75-yard drive that ended with a 5-yard touchdown pass to Amari Cooper with 51 seconds remaining. Sunday in Arlington Rush completed three consecutive passes to CeeDee Lamb and Noah Brown for 30 yards of precious real estate that set up Brett Maher's walk-off 50-yard field goal.
Rush's two-start NFL vitals: 43 of 71 (60 percent) for 560 yards, three touchdowns and one interception.
Said running back Ezekiel Elliott, "Coop knows his s---!"
Immediate stopgap. Long-term insurance policy. Rush is proving to be the imperfect player that fits perfectly.
But where does Rush fit in the lore of Cowboys' backup quarterbacks? Or, let's be fair, does he even belong the conversation ... yet?
Across eras and through generations, the Cowboys have historically de-emphasized No. 2 quarterbacks. Most of the “good” ones, turns out, were a result of pre-season injury or mid-season trade. Compiling a list of Dallas’ worst No. 2s is nauseatingly simple. It starts with Babe Laufenberg, ends with Stephen McGee and is littered with the likes of John Roach, Brandon Weeden, Matt Cassel, Anthony Wright and Clint Stoerner in between.
The Top 10 best aren’t ranked for their careers as a whole or their performance while with the Cowboys, but more so their credentials up and until assuming the role. These players most confidently answered the question, “Are the Cowboys in capable hands should something happen to their starting quarterback?”
The Cowboys have only twice in 63 years began a season with a backup that started and won a Super Bowl – Roger Staubach in 1972, Brad Johnson in 2007. (Two others – Wade Wilson in 1997, Drew Bledsoe in 2006 – won rings as No. 2s.) Only during the wacky period of 1971-72 – when coach Tom Landry sometimes literally alternated plays with Staubach and Craig Morton while making consecutive Super Bowl berths – have the Cowboys enjoyed a credible, credentialed quarterback on the upswing of his career.
But, at times, the Cowboys’ bevy of backups has provided calms before the storm.
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In 1963, Eddie LeBaron brought a Rookie of the Year award and four Pro Bowl appearances into his role backing up starter Don Meredith. But with only 28 NFL wins as a No. 1, he doesn’t make our list. Same with Steve Beuerlein, who held Troy Aikman’s clipboard in 1992 the year after leading the Cowboys to a 4-0 record and into the playoffs while subbing for the injured superstar. But, again, with only 12 NFL wins in Dallas, he didn’t make the cut.
Rush if off to a perfect start, but he has a ways to go to finish among the Top 10 Best Backup Quarterbacks in Cowboys History.
10. Wade Wilson (Troy Aikman), 1997 – 35 wins. 1 Pro Bowl. NFL completion percentage leader with Vikings in 1988. The late Wilson had started an NFC Championship Game with Minnesota and earned a Super Bowl XXX ring as Cowboys’ backup two seasons prior.
9. Andy Dalton (Dak Prescott), 2020 – 70 wins. 3 Pro Bowls. Nine years as a starter. Just 0-4 in playoffs.
8. Drew Bledsoe (Tony Romo), 2006 – 95 wins. 4 Pro Bowls. NFL passing yards leader in 1994. Won Super Bowl ring as Patriots’ No. 2 behind Tom Brady in 2001. 34-year-old lost Cowboys’ job to rising Romo in Week 7.
7. Danny White (Gary Hogeboom), 1984 – 42 wins. 1 Pro Bowl. 9 playoff starts. 32-year-old had led Cowboys to three consecutive NFC Championship Games 1980-82.
6. Brad Johnson (Tony Romo), 2007 – 71 wins. 2 Pro Bowls. Well in decline at 39, but still boasted aura of starting, winning Super Bowl for Buccaneers in 2002.
5. Craig Morton (Roger Staubach), 1971 – 22 wins. Led Cowboys to Super V the previous season at age 27. Lost a real-time competition at the season’s halfway point, then served as backup while Staubach led 10 consecutive wins including Super Bowl VI.
4. Randall Cunningham (Troy Aikman), 2000 – 79 wins. MVP. 4 Pro Bowls. 37-year-old had two years before led Vikings to 15-1 record and into the NFC Championship Game.
3. Tony Romo (Dak Prescott), 2016 – 78 wins. 4 Pro Bowls. 6 playoff starts. At 36, he was only two years removed from season in which he led NFL in completion percentage, threw 34 touchdowns to only nine interceptions and was 12-3 with a playoff win as the starter. Lost his job when injured in preseason, then watched - while still hurt for a big chunk of the season - as rookie Prescott lead Dallas to 13-3, division-winning season.
2. Bernie Kosar (Troy Aikman), 1993 – 53 wins. 1 Pro Bowl. 7 playoff starts. 30-year-old had led Browns to three AFC Championship Games in late 1980s. Filled in for injured Aikman in second half of NFC Championship Game, throwing touchdown pass to Alvin Harper to seal trip back to the Super Bowl.
1. Roger Staubach (Craig Morton), 1972 – Only 13 wins, but one was Super Bowl VI the previous year in which he won MVP. Injured his shoulder in the third preseason game, but remained the backup when healthy as Morton guided Dallas to 8-2 start and playoff berth. Came off bench to lead memorable comeback win over 49ers in playoffs, then started the following week’s NFC Championship Game loss at Washington.
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