By Elwyn Henderson
The 0-1 Dallas Cowboys took on the 0-1 Cincinnati Bengals at AT&T Stadium in a game they desperately needed to win since quarterback Dak Prescott was sidelined from 4-8 weeks due to the hand injury he sustained against Tampa Bay in the opening night loss to the Bucs.
Dallas received the opening kickoff from Evan McPherson to begin the game. The kick went into the end zone and Dallas began their first possession with Cooper Rush under center.
The Cowboys picked up one first down in the possession and then decided to gamble on 4th and 2 from their 43. The gamble paid off when Rush hit Noah Brown on a 17-yard gain down to the Bengal 39. Rush led the team into the end zone for the first score when he hit Rush from 9 yards out with 8:35 left in the first quarter. Brett Maher added the PAT and Dallas led 7-0.
After Maher kicked out of the end zone following the score Joe Burrow and the Bengal offense took the field for the first time.
Dallas surrendered one first down and appeared to have forced a punt on the next series but Anthony Barr was called per unnecessary roughness, giving the Bengals new life after a 15-yard penalty. The penalty allowed the visitors to move down the field, but the Dallas defense forced a 44-yard McPherson field goal with 3:05 left in the quarter to move the score to 7-3. The drive was 11 plays, 40 yards and took 5:30 off the clock.
Dallas came right back down the field on the strength of a long passes to Brown and Tony Pollard, who was taken down inside the 1. Dallas scored on the next play when Pollard ran in from the 1 with 17 seconds left in the first quarter. Maher added the extra point and the Cowboys advanced the lead to 14-3. The drive was 6 plays, 75 yards and took 2:48.
The Cowboys forced a three-and-out. Following a fair catch of a 46-yard Kevin Huber punt Dallas went back to work on offense for the third time. After managing one first down on the possession Brian Anger was forced to punt the ball back to the Bengals. The 42-yard punt was fair caught at the 15 and Burrow and company hit the field again.
They drove down to the Dallas 42 and Huber punted the ball back. The ball was fair caught at the 11 and Rush led his charges back to the field. The offense managed to move down to the Bengal 48 before Anger had to punt the ball down to the Bengal 13.
The Dallas defense forced another Cincy punt and DeVontae Turpin returned the kick back close to midfield, allowing the Cowboys to get one more chance to add to the lead before the half ended.
The Bengals held on defense and with 14 seconds left in the half Maher came in to attempt a 54-yard field goal. The kick was good and Dallas upped the advantage to 17-3 with 9 seconds left in the half. The drive was 6 plays, 13 yards and took just 41 seconds.
Burrow took a knee and the half ended with the Cowboys leading 17-3.
The Bengals received the ball and drove into field goal range. The drive ended when McPherson nailed a 50-yard field goal with 9:41 left in the third quarter. That cut the Dallas lead to 17-6. The drive was 11 plays, 43 yards and took 5:19 off the clock.
After holding the Cowboys on their next possession Burrow and company put another lengthy drive together before the Dallas defense forced a 46-yard McPherson field goal with 4:05 left in the third quarter. The 3-pointer cut the lead to 17-9. The drive took 3:53 off the clock and was 7 plays, 31 yards.
The next score came when Burrow drove his unit into the end zone with 3:45 left in the game when he hit Tee Higgins from 5 yards out. The visitors went for 2 and Burrow hit Tyler Boyd for the 2-point conversion to tie the score at 17-17. The drive was an incredible 19 plays, 83 yards and took 8:54 off the fourth quarter clock.
The Cowboys weren’t able to move the ball on their next possession and Anger punted the ball away. It was fair caught by the Bengals at their 8 where they had 2:13 left in regulation play to try to score again and win the game.
Knowing they had to prevent a sustained drive, the Cowboys forced a three-and-out, forcing a Huber punt from his 16. The kick traveled to the Dallas 25 and Turpin returned the ball up to the 35 where the Cowboys began with 57 seconds left to try to win the game in regulation play.
Rush moved the offense down the field picking up two critical first downs. The clocked the ball on 2nd down with 3 seconds left in regulation play, setting up a 50-yard field goal by Maher to win the game. The kick was good and the Cowboys moved to 1-1 on the year with the tie-breaking 3-pointer to end the game.
A very excited Head Coach Mike McCarthy met with the media after the big win.
“We knew it was going to be a big challenge, but it’s very rewarding when you watch your football team not blink after last Sunday and then have a good week. We’re young in spots. Some of our young guys did some excellent things but they made a few mistakes, and that’s where you want to be. You want to win football games and have the opportunity to correct and grow and that’s where we’ll come out of this. This was an excellent win. I’m just so happy for our players, just the focus and energy they put in that situation and then you go down and win the game. I’m so happy for Brett (Maher). He gets to come back home and kick the game winner. He got the game ball; excellent team win!”
Cooper Rush, starting only his second NFL game was asked when he came in for a postgame presser how big a game it was, and he replied, “Yeah, that was a big one for us. You don’t want to fall down to 0-2; need that first win. Defense obviously kept us in it tonight and right at the end we did the job.”
Things don’t get any easier for the Cowboys as they will travel to the Meadowlands next Monday night, September 26th to take on the surprising 2-0 New York Giants who are leading the NFC East after 2 games.