Friday, December 9 2022

By David Helman

FOX Sports Dallas Cowboys Writer 

Contrary to that old saying, the Cowboys walked in with a Lamb – but they might have walked out with a lion.

Apologies are in order to Micah Parsons, who long ago claimed the lion moniker for himself. But in the wake of CeeDee Lamb’s heroics to help down the previously unbeaten New York Giants, 23-16, surely he can lend the nickname for a night.

It’s not that Lamb won this game on his own. Plenty of praise is due to a potent Dallas ground game, not to mention a pass rush that caught fire for a second-straight week and sacked Daniel Jones a disgusting five times. Of course, Cooper Rush continues to write an incredible story with another steady performance that saw him improve to 3-0 as a starter.

The story starts with Lamb not because he’s the night’s only hero – but because he was almost the night’s biggest scapegoat.

The narrative was written the moment the ball clanged off his outstretched arms with 4:39 to play until halftime. Rush, with all day to throw off a play-action fake, saw Lamb streaking all alone on a deep crosser, just one man between him and the end zone.

We can’t say for sure Lamb would’ve scored to give the Cowboys’ a 13-3 lead, but it felt destined to happen – right up until the ball fell harmlessly to the turf, leaving Lamb to jog back to the huddle in shame.

“I let that one slip away,” Lamb said. “It was tough, partially because all the hard work I put in just to let one play slip away.”

Another deep misfire later on, with Lamb failing to create separation on safety Xavier McKinney, only furthered the conversation. In a world where Justin Jefferson is lighting the league on fire and DeVonta Smith is emerging as a young star in Dallas’ own division, is it fair to question how well Lamb measures up?

Fast forward to the fourth quarter, with the game bogged down in a 13-13 tie. Rush had already moved past Lamb’s earlier drop, having found him on several occasions earlier in the half. But the Cowboys now faced 4th-and-4 near midfield. Without hesitation, Rush fired to his primary read – Lamb getting right to the first down marker and making the catch despite hard contact.

Moments later, after two more completions, came the moment that’s already become one of the highlights of Week 3. Tasked with beating man coverage on the goal-line fade, Lamb outstretched one hand and made one of the best catches of his career, tiptoeing just inside the sideline to give the Cowboys a lead they wouldn’t surrender. Asked how he maintained his confidence to keep going back to Lamb, Rush answered succinctly: “He’s CeeDee Lamb.”

It’s a great soundbite, and hopefully for the Cowboys, it rings true. The Lamb who showed up after halftime is the guy that was never supposed to slip to No. 17 in the draft, and the guy who can stabilize the Cowboys’ receiver corps moving forward.

“CeeDee’s our No. 1 receiver, so that’ll never change,” Cowboys head coach Mike McCarthy said.

More than anything, Lamb feels emblematic for a young Cowboys team that’s doing a lot of growing up with Dak Prescott missing from the lineup.

Throughout the first half, there was evidence of youth. Tyler Smith, making his third career start at left tackle, was called for an early hold. Undrafted rookie tight end Peyton Hendershot incurred a costly false start. The Cowboys were flagged eight times for 70 yards on the night, and they did allow the Giants to take a second-half lead in a game they had otherwise controlled.

“Part of this is September football,” McCarthy said. “You’re going to see some mistakes from our young guys, whether it’s penalties or a drop.”

Yet, where were they by the end of the night? Smith helped pave the way for Tony Pollard and Ezekiel Elliott to run for 178 yards, while Hendershot chipped in three big catches for 43 yards.

And while Rush might not be young, getting set to turn 29 in two months, what else can you say about a guy who just started his third NFL game and improved to a perfect 3-0? The Michigan native is just the third quarterback in Cowboys history to win his first three starts, along with Roger Staubach and Jason Garrett. One of those players is an all-time great, and the other put together a 32-year stint in the NFL as both a player and a coach. It’s not bad company to keep.

It wasn’t as dramatic as last week’s walk-off, but this is clearly a formula that can work. The Cowboy’ pass rush is going to make life difficult on most of their opponents, and their run game is dependable. Rush remains as cool as ever. He has now engineered game-winning drives in each of his two starts this season, and he has yet to turn the ball over in 2022.

If he can continue to coax everyone else along with him, the Cowboys can stay plenty relevant until Prescott’s back in action – whenever that might be.

David Helman covers the Dallas Cowboys for FOX Sports. He previously spent nine seasons covering the Cowboys for the team’s official website. In 2018, he won a regional Emmy for his role in producing “Dak Prescott: A Family Reunion” about the quarterback’s time at Mississippi State. Follow him on Twitter @davidhelman_.


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