That’s more like it! After a pretty listless performance against the Buccaneers in Week 1, and sending Cooper Rush out for just his second career start, not many had high hopes for the Cowboys this week. That didn’t stop them from pulling out the upset in nail-biting fashion. There were plenty of critical moments in this one, but these five plays were massive turning points in the game.
Cooper Rush finds Noah Brown on fourth down early in the game
After the Cowboys mustered just three points last week, the offense desperately needed to get off to a hot start in this one, especially in an effort to get Cooper Rush in a rhythm. They started off strong, driving to midfield, but an incomplete pass on third down brought up fourth down.
Mike McCarthy, without really flinching, left his offense out there. They didn’t even huddle up, an indication that the Cowboys knew they were prepared to go for it if necessary. Rush proceeded to stand in the pocket despite pressure bearing down on him and delivered a strike over the middle to Noah Brown to pick up 17 yards and extend the drive.
Six plays later, Rush found Brown again for a touchdown - the Cowboys’ first of the season - but it never would’ve happened without that fourth-down conversion. Credit is due for having the courage to go for it as well as actually pulling it off.
Tony Pollard busts the game wide open, sets up easy touchdown
After the defense limited the Bengals to just a field goal on their opening drive, Dallas had an opportunity to stake out a sizable lead early on. Given the remaining uncertainty around the offense as a whole, even after their strong opening drive, responding here felt very necessary.
They did just that. Rush found Brown again on a deep strike to move the chains and bring Dallas to the middle of the field. That’s when the Cowboys did the thing fans have been screaming for, they fed Tony Pollard.
Pollard went 47 yards and initially scored, although the replay showed he was down by an inch. The Cowboys wisely gave him the ball on the very next play and he scored for real to put Dallas up two scores. The Cowboys needed big plays like this to supplement an offense that likely wouldn’t be able to win a shootout - this was the last touchdown Dallas scored in the game - and Pollard happily obliged. Credit is also due to the entire offensive line, especially center Tyler Biadasz making a crucial block that allowed Pollard to burst up the field.
Dalton Schultz fumbles away an opportunity to close out the game
Late in the third quarter, the Bengals nailed their third field goal to cut the Cowboys’ lead to 17-9. Dallas hadn’t scored since right before halftime, and there was a feeling they had to change that in order to keep the Bengals at arm’s length.
Rush and the offense were working on just that, moving the ball effectively. They even got bailed out by a penalty that moved the chains on a third-down incompletion, a rare turn of events for the oft-penalized Cowboys.
Then, on second down at the Cincinnati 35, Rush hit Dalton Schultz on a quick shot that he proceeded to take for nine yards and a would-be first down. However, Schultz fumbled the ball away as he went down, and Cincinnati scooped it up. The Bengals didn’t score on the ensuing drive, but it killed the Cowboys’ first promising drive of the second half and robbed them of points that would’ve made it a two score game again.
Ja’Marr Chase picks up big fourth-down conversion
In the grand scheme of things, that fumble turned out to be what really let the Bengals back into the game. Both teams punted on their next drives, giving the Bengals the ball down just eight points early in the fourth quarter. That began a 19-play drive that ate up almost nine minutes of clock.
But it almost stalled out. The Cowboys stopped Cincinnati on third down at the Dallas 27, but the Bengals had to go for it. On fourth and six, Joe Burrow went to his favorite target in Ja’Marr Chase. While Chase was quiet most of the game, he came up big on this slant route and picked up the first down with two yards to spare.
Four plays later, the Bengals scored a touchdown and tied up the game on the two-point conversion. The Dallas defense was so close to ending that drive, and potentially the game, but Chase’s big time catch allowed Cincinnati to stay right in it.
Noah Brown’s improbable catch flips the field for the game-winner
After going three and out on his first game-winning drive attempt, Rush was gifted another opportunity with 57 seconds remaining. He hit CeeDee Lamb for eight yards on first down, and a penalty stopped the clock for Dallas.
On second down, needing to flip the field from Dallas’ own 43, Rush targeted (who else?) Noah Brown over the middle. What's crazy is that the ball got tipped on the release and Brown still managed to stretch out for it, securing the ball for a gain of 12 yards and a first down.
A quick pass to Lamb on the next play officially brought it within range for Brett Maher, who drilled the game-winner a little bit later. But the highly improbable catch from Brown on the tipped pass was pivotal in getting the Cowboys onto the other side of the 50-yard line. And with that, the legend of Cooper Rush continued to grow.