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Cowboys overcoming absences, keeping playoff hopes alive

Even without Dak Prescott and other key talent, Dallas is doing enough to stay afloat early in 2022.

Dallas Cowboys v New York Giants Photo by Cooper Neill/Getty Images

Two weeks ago, positive feelings about the Dallas Cowboys’ 2022 season were obliterated by an ugly loss and quarterback Dak Prescott’s injury. Now, after two-straight upset wins, and with starters on their way back to playing, hopes for this year may be even higher than they were before Week 1.

Despite missing Prescott, OT Tyron Smith, WR Michael Gallup, S Jayron Kearse, G Connor McGovern, and last night TE Dalton Schultz, Dallas has taken down the reigning AFC Champions and the previously undefeated Giants in the last two weeks. The Cowboys now sit at a shocking 2-1 record and have a realistic shot at 3-1 with the Commanders visiting this Sunday.

Sure, the Eagles are flying high right now in the NFC East and the conference as a whole, but all the Cowboys can do right now is keep pace while waiting for those rivalry games to fall on the schedule. Cooper Rush and the gang are doing that job nicely, defying expectations from the aftermath of the loss to Tampa Bay.

It’s way too early for playoff projections, but if the postseason did start now, Dallas would be one of the NFC’s three wild card teams based on overall record. Nobody, if they’re being honest, had the Cowboys in the upper half of the conference after Week 1.

Beyond the record and playoff chances, though, we’re now building confidence in players and units that we didn’t have going into the season. Some of the perceived liabilities back in August are now looking like strengths, creating the possibility of an even deeper and more dangerous Cowboys roster than we previously believed.

Think about K Brett Maher for a minute. Outside of the 59-yard attempt last night, Maher’s been perfect on his six other field goals and four extra points. Before we worried that Maher would cost us games, but now he’s had the game-winner over Cincinnati and is responsible for 22 of Dallas’ 46 total points over the first three weeks.

OT Tyler Smith, who was supposed to be G Tyler Smith up until the last week of August, has already become a standout performer on the offensive line. Blocking on run plays like a young Larry Allen and showing no glaring weaknesses in pass protection, Smith didn’t lose his job to recently-added veteran Jason Peters. We now have to wonder if Tyron Smith will even get the job back if he returns in December.

We had inklings that the Cowboys defense would be good in 2022 but not without reservations. Now we’ve watched them carry the team for three weeks, and Micah Parsons has continued his ascension from rookie phenom to the team’s best overall player.

Dallas Cowboys v New York Giants Photo by Elsa/Getty Images

Even in the season opener, the defense did enough to keep Tom Brady in check and give the team a chance. They’ve dominated the Bengals and Giants offenses since then, allowing the Cowboys to get wins despite just 20 and 23 points scored in each game. Even when Parsons was kept quiet last night, we saw DeMarcus Lawrence explode with three sacks and have seen Dorance Armstrong and others stepping up consistently.

With Michael Gallup expected back next Sunday and hopefully Dak Prescott a week or two later, the offense should soon be closer to the defense’s level. Dallas projects to have a well-balanced team for the remainder of the season, with an arguably elite defense that could carry them far.

Of course, nobody is more relevant to this discussion than Cooper Rush. Now 3-0 as a starter, two of those wins coming in road games, Rush is moving into the short list of the NFL’s respected backup quarterbacks. Instead of being afraid of seeing him come into a game, Cowboys fans now have surging confidence in QB2.

Rush has shown the willingness to take chances and unflappability in the pocket. His clear command of the offense and smooth execution have validated Dallas’ loyalty over the years.

Granted, a rude awakening is always around the corner. Washington may be struggling but it’s not like Dallas has pulverized their last two opponents. That game could easily be another close one, and we all know how easily one mistake or missed opportunity can swing an outcome.

The following week, with Prescott still unlikely to play, the Cowboys go on the road to face the Rams. It will be their toughest test since the Bucs and, especially if Dallas wins this Sunday, probably bring everyone back down to earth.

But that’s the point, isn’t it? Two weeks ago it felt like we were in football hell. Now we’re trying to manage our expectations and not let optimism override reason.

If nothing else, being a Cowboys fan is never uninteresting.

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