The star that represented the Dallas Cowboys in Sunday’s needed 31-28 victory over the Minnesota Vikings shone with greater luminescence than it has all season. The ‘Boys played their best game from top to bottom (and that includes the games that Dak Prescott managed their foray), effectively controlling both sides of the football for the majority of the contest.
The win, which carries an even heavier weight when factoring in the Eagles’ recent misfortunes, couldn’t have come at a more opportune time as Dallas tries to desperately claw their way back into postseason contention. Their pursuits will be made much easier by the NFC East’s horrid current standing; its respective teams share a 12-win total between them in what’s the polar opposite of a braggadociously competitive display.
I say this with as much strength I can muster to keep my facial muscles from erupting into uncontrollable laughter: the winner of the division may very well be the first team to amass seven wins. The hilarity of the division is Netflix-worthy - the epitome of an old NFL follies montage featuring enough bloops, ehhhs, and wa wa waaahhhs to make up an All-Star comedy special.
But outside of the joy that comes from the folly of it all, there’s an immense bliss that stems from the fact that Dallas actually has a chance to compete for a playoff spot. An equal merriness comes from the abundance of players that posted star-worthy performances against the purple brigade Sunday.
For the first time since this series’ inception, the three-pronged list of the game’s best players isn’t strikingly obvious. Which boosts its intrigue - and the excitement the rest of the season poses - tenfold. Here they are.
3. Amari Cooper
Mike McCarthy hasn’t faced off against a foe with more opulence than he has the Minnesota Vikings. Granted, McCarthy has seen action vs. every NFL franchise, and that hasn’t necessarily netted substantial results up to this point in the season. But the trip to Minnesota yielded more than just cold temperatures and inclement weather obstacles.
It was a fruitful excursion for McCarthy and company, and his back-hand knowledge of the Vikes, their defensive tendencies and Mike Zimmer was pivotally useful as Andy Dalton carved up their fort like a cheese-grater. Dalton cunningly maneuvered his right-arm to the tune of 203 yards and three decisive touchdowns.
His favorite target: Amari Cooper.
Coop’s 2020 campaign has mirrored the year itself for most of us: it’s been an up and down rollercoaster. He reeled in just one reception during his team’s Philly loss, but supplanted that drudging showcase with a commensurate five catches for 67 yards the following week.
This past Sunday marked one of his superior standalone outings. He upped his reception total by just one from the Steelers matchup, but the magnitude of each was extensively greater. Minnesota came out with several lax coverage schemes that allowed the route-running savant numerous opportunities to roam through the middle of the field, and he capitalized on every opportunity. One of his biggest was a tremendous momentum-booster that came near the second half’s close, a dicey corner route that nearly sprouted a TD.
Cooper’s route-running has always been crisp as a cinnamon stick, and if his catch total can continue to match up, secondaries will be shaken to the core when Dallas appears on their schedule.
2. CeeDee Lamb
Coop is wildly invaluable to Dallas’ long-term plans, as evidenced by the stature of his massive long-term deal. But CeeDee Lamb has been the most consistent receptionist for the silver and blue all year. And the fact that he’s a rookie makes the idea of what he can be immeasurably enticing.
It may be safe to say that he’s deserving of the legendary #88 that drapes his back. And it’s more than safe to say that the Jones family made the right decision in making Lamb their initial selection during the draft. He’s already on top of the team’s rookie record-book for catches in his first year, surpassing former ‘Boys legend and Hall of Famer “Bullet” Bob Hayes for the top spot all-time, and he’s not even close to his peak. That’s mind-boggling.
Lamb raked in just four targets for 34 yards and one touchdown, but the attention he’s garnering from opposing corners and safeties is the ultimate telltale sign of the fortitude his presence carries. He’s opening up red-carpet sized avenues for Cooper, Gallup, Cedric Wilson and Noah Brown to find the spotlight, and that’s an enormous testament to the work ethic of a man who was slotted to be a secondary option as a slot receiver.
Oh, and did I mention Lamb had a touchdown grab?
But it wasn’t just any catch. This may be the theatrical dazzler that vaults him into the conversation for the NFL’s top options, and cements his standing for Offensive Rookie of the Year. Words don’t do the circus-like contortion justice, and the bodily dexterity Lamb displayed here is uniquely hard to come by:
Plus, he added 48 punt return yards on just three tries.
Lamb is already etching a marvelous legacy for himself as the year goes on, and this catch may be the one that holds the most remembrance of his short-lived league time thus far.
1. Donovan Wilson
The man they call “hitman” was laying the smack down on the Vikings offense like a high-flying WWE wrestler in Sunday’s contest. One of the positives about losing seasons like this is that they allow for unheralded players to stake their claims and earn more substantial playing time as coaches begin to experiment with their lineups in alternate ways.
Donovan Wilson fits this theme to an absolute tee.
He wasn’t included in many of Mike Nolan’s strategic substitutions throughout the early emergence of the season, but as of late, he’s given the defensive coordinator no other choice but to look in his direction. Wilson recorded his first start in the Cowboys’ Week 5 devastator vs. New York, and hasn’t looked back since.
He’s a missile when Nolan brings him on blitz packages, and that was visible many a time against Kirk Cousins. He still has some coverage flaws to patch up, but nonetheless, it’s rare to see him out of position, as his speed and agility allows him to keep up with the league’s most nimble receivers.
But his greatest attribute relates to his apropos nickname.
Wilson can hit. His had nine combined takedowns Sunday, and caused two huge turnovers with limb-crunching hits that could virtually be felt through the television.
The first came was a strip sack, in which he joined Demarcus Lawrence to swallow up Kirk Cousins and recover the loose change. The second: an absolute rocker on a Dalvin Cook crossing route that sent a man usually responsible for dishing out punishment hobbling back to the sidelines with obvious agony and breathing troubles.
“He’s a stud,” was Mike McCarthy’s blunt evaluation on Wilson’s performance.