EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — Wearing his headset on the sideline, Dallas Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott lifted the speaker and howled a "Let's go!" that was so loud that ESPN's broadcast microphones picked it up.
Backup Cooper Rush, making his second start in place of the injured Prescott, had just lofted a perfectly-placed throw to receiver CeeDee Lamb for a one-yard touchdown that would put the NFC East-rival New York Giants away, 23-16.
The victory allowed the Cowboys (2-1) to stay on the heels of the undefeated Philadelphia Eagles, who have looked to be the class of the division through the early going of the season. The performance, however, was not without its significant faults.
Here are the takeaways from Dallas' victory Monday night.
Reliable Cooper Rush
Rush — once again — played reliably and proved once more that he is a reliable backup in this Dallas system. He finished the game 21-of-31 passing for 215 yards with one touchdown.
He released the ball quickly, throwing passes in an average of 2.54 seconds, and avoided mistakes. He distributed the ball to Dallas' playmakers, despite facing a steady dose of blitzes (48.4%). In particular, Rush found gaps in the second level of the Giant defense. In passes that traveled between 10 and 20 yards, Rush completed 5-of-6 throws for 108 yards.
So, though Cowboys owner Jerry Jones' comments about there being a potential quarterback controversy are nothing more than an attempt to drum up coverage for a team that loves to be in the headlines, Rush provides something far more valuable than manufactured intrigue: he's dependable. And that's all the Cowboys need from him.
Jekyll and Hyde in the red zone
The Cowboys entered Monday night as the NFL's top outfit in red zone conversion rate, though that came with a significant caveat: Dallas had crossed the 20 just twice in the 2022 season. Still, Dallas scored touchdowns in each of those trips, both of which came in a Week 2 victory over the Bengals.
By halftime Monday night, however, Dallas' rate of conversion had been halved.
The Cowboys settled twice for short field goals in the first two quarters despite marching the ball inside the Giants' 10-yard line both times. The first trip fell apart due to communication issues at the line of scrimmage and offensive penalties that pushed Dallas back. The second time, officials missed a clear defensive pass interference on receiver Noah Brown, but, regardless, Dallas' issues Monday night remained: it failed to finish drives.
In a sign perhaps that Dallas may be better equipped this season, it corrected course and called plays more aggressively inside the red area. And, more importantly, players executed with precision. The Cowboys converted both of their red zone trips in the second half, allowing them to build a lead the Giants could not overcome.
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Unforced errors and penalty problems persist
In what is quickly becoming a hallmark of Mike McCarthy's Cowboy squads, lapses of concentration and unforced errors often mar the team's momentum at inopportune moments. On Monday night those problems were manifested in drops and penalties.
Third-year wideout CeeDee Lamb, who has underwhelmed so far this season, had two early drops in the game, including one in which he was wide open, streaking down the left sideline for a potential touchdown. Like Dallas' course correction with its first half red zone woes, Lamb shined after intermission and made one of the catches of the season when he hauled in a one-handed grab in the corner of the end zone.
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He finished with eight catches for 87 yards with the score.
The Cowboys were the most penalized team last season with 141 infractions enforced against them. Through three weeks this season, Dallas is in a similar spot. Dallas is tied for 30th in the NFL in penalties enforced after it was called for eight more more against the Giants for 70 yards. But it wasn't just a question of volume; the Cowboys showed a lack of situational awareness, granting the Giants four first downs via penalties.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Cowboys defeat Giants, win again with Cooper Rush in for Dak Prescott