ARLINGTON — Only one win separates a 1-1 record from an 0-2 one.
But for the Cowboys, it sure looks a whole lot better.
A late field goal propelled the team to a 20-17 upset win over the Cincinnati Bengals. Here are five takeaways from the result:
Brett Maher’s reset button
Forget how Brett Maher looked in 2018 and 2019 during his first Cowboys tenure.
He deserves a fresh slate.
Maher 2.0 improved to a perfect 3-for-3 on the early season. None of his makes so far were gimmes, either; He made a 54-yarder Sunday late in the first half and a 50-yard game-winner as time expired after a 51-yarder in Week 1 against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
The sample size here is still too small to make any sweeping statements. But between his early field-goal efficiency and strong kickoffs, Maher at least is gradually showing he is a better version of himself than Dallas remembers.
Maher converted a career-high 88.9% of his field-goal attempts (16 of 18) last season with the New Orleans Saints.
This is why
If any Cowboys fans didn’t know in March what the franchise thought of right tackle La’el Collins when it released him despite adverse salary-cap implications, they know now based on how the defense approached him Sunday.
The team attacked.
Linebacker Micah Parsons predominantly worked at defensive end Sunday and found ample success, most of his reps coming on Collins’ side.
The long afternoon started on the first drive. Parsons aligned exclusively at left defensive end that series and, on the fifth snap, dusted Collins with an inside jab step. Quarterback Joe Burrow beat the pressure with a quick pass but couldn’t avoid Parsons on the ensuing snap; he beat Collins with another inside move for a sack.
Later in the first quarter, on a third down, the Cowboys paired Parsons and defensive end DeMarcus Lawrence opposite Collins. Collins engaged Lawrence, leaving an unblocked Parsons to deliver a hard hit on Burrow and help force a fourth-down punt.
It got to a point when, on a third-and-14, the Bengals had running back Samaje Perine chip Parsons before Collins and right guard Alex Cappa double-teamed him. Still, Parsons nearly batted the Burrow pass at the line of scrimmage.
Collins was flagged for a false start in the third quarter before a Parsons pass rush. A spin move on Collins later forced Burrow to flee the pocket, contributing to a Leighton Vander Esch sack.
Quality offensive linemen are valued commodities. Teams do not release one without reason. The internal concern about Collins was multifaceted, including where he was physically following a 2020 hip surgery. His release resulted in $13.95 million in dead money, split across the 2022 and 2023 salary caps.
The Cowboys do not have seller’s remorse.
NFL’s best defender
Someone could dismiss Parsons’ case as the NFL’s best defensive player out of ignorance, not knowing his skill set and how it impacts a game. Or someone could deny Parsons that label out of restraint since he is only 23 years old after all, having played fewer than 20 games in his professional career.
Neither reason has anything to do with Parsons as a football player.
His disruption. His versatility.
The combination is one of one.
Parsons recorded Sunday his fifth career game with at least two sacks and his second in as many weeks. The best defender in the league? No dispute will be made here.
Game officials rarely get credit for tough calls they get correct.
Referee Brad Allen and his crew deserve praise.
In the fourth quarter, with the Bengals driving, linebacker Leighton Vander Esch made contact about 20 yards downfield with Bengals tight end Hayden Hurst on an incompletion. A flag was thrown for a hit on a defenseless receiver, but the hit was clean and came only after Hurst bounced off a Cowboys teammate towards Vander Esch.
The flag was picked up following a lengthy conference between officials.
Had the call stood, it could have changed the game’s complexion. Instead, Burrow did, completing the drive anyway with a touchdown and two-point conversion.
Dak doesn’t need to rush back
The Cowboys should not feel the need to hurry back Dak Prescott from his right thumb fracture, especially when considering how that decision could risk a fracture that would involve a second surgery and longer recovery.
Cooper Rush held it down.
In his second NFL start, Rush started off hot leading touchdown drives on the opening two series. He faded some after that but did enough to lead the Cowboys to their game-winning drive.
Rush has two career starts.
And he has two career dramatic wins to which he led Dallas in the fourth quarter. The first came on Halloween last year against the Minnesota Vikings.
In Sunday’s pregame show on 105.3 The Fan [KRLD-FM], Cowboys executive vice president Stephen Jones told sideline reporter Kristi Scales that Prescott could miss as few as two or three games. Prescott won’t play next Monday against the New York Giants, but the Cowboys apparently haven’t ruled out Oct. 2 against the Washington Commanders.
Do not rush Prescott on Rush’s account.
Rush finished 19-of-31 for 235 yards and a touchdown.
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