Dallas Cowboys

Amari Cooper is the difference maker the Cowboys traded for and he finally showed it

The Coop is loose.

Finally.

Since coming over in a bye week trade with the Oakland Raiders, Amari Cooper had impacted the Dallas Cowboys offense in every positive way except for the main reason they gave up a first-round pick to get him.

He had yet to be a game breaker and take one to the house.

That’s why you give up next year’s first-round pick. And while he had helped the running game and improved the third-down percentage, he had just 14 catches for 169 yards and a touchdown in three games with the Cowboys including a two-game winning streak heading into Thursday’s NFC East showdown against the Washington Redskins.

But all that changed in a whisker and Cooper took over the game and took the breath away from Cowboys fans in the third quarter when he broke loose on two short passes for long touchdowns of 40 and 90 yards from quarterback Dak Prescott in leading the Cowboys to a 31-23 victory and into first place in the NFC East.

The Cowboys, riding a three-game winning streak, are tied with the Redskins at 6-5 but they are riding high and feeling good.

An excited Cowboys owner Jerry Jones said Cooper gave them the spark they were looking for, as “When he is even, he’s leaving.”

“Yeah, we didn’t look back (on that trade),” Jones said. “I can’t tell you what a celebration I had internally, in my mind, when we got it done. And we needed him, and we sure needed a receiver of his stature, and my hat’s off to the coaches for getting him in position to make that kind of contribution. Certainly for him and Dak to get to play.

“But I’m proud for him. He’s working hard, he’s so conscientious and I just am so proud that we have him. Because on any down he’s capable of making a big play.”

The 40-yarder came on a crucial third down following a Redskins touchdown that put the Cowboys behind for the first time in the game, 13-10 in the third quarter.

A great route made cornerback Quentin Dunbar slip and he ran it to the end zone, following it up with a celebratory free throw over the crossbar with his teammates lined up on the imaginary line.

And then after a Redskins punt that put the Cowboys at the 9, he streaked into Cowboys’ Thanksgiving Day history and the hearts of the blue-clad fans at AT&T Stadium.

After a one-yard run by Elliott, Prescott threw over the middle to Cooper, who broke a tackle and raced down the left sideline to the end zone for a 90-yard touchdown.

There was no need for a celebration this time.

A tired but satisfied Cooper jogged to the sideline while being mobbed by his teammates.

“They were big plays, and he’s an outstanding football player,” coach Jason Garrett said. “He’s capable of making those kind of plays, and Dak threw two big-time balls to him. The first to buy himself a little bit of time and watch Amari work and Amari did the rest of it, and the play coming out, we got the ball trapped down inside our own 10 yard line on the two-play drive and the long pass was huge for us in the game.

Cooper said this type of impact is what he envisioned when Cowboys traded for him.

“Yes, I did. I tried to come in here and be an asset as soon as possible,” Cooper said. “I just want to prove the Cowboys right. They traded for me and I’m going to be a good player for them. and I think this is one step toward doing that.”

How about a giant step.

And when defensive end DeMarcus Lawrence intercepted a pass from Colt McCoy on the next series, the Thanksgiving Day feast was on.

Prescott scored on a scrambling five-yard run that came with a spin move to avoid a sack and ended with a dive into the end zone.

His celebratory jump into Salvation Army Red Kettle in the back of the end zone was simply the icing on the cake that was baked by Cooper.

Cooper’s eight catches for 180 yards was a record performance on Thanksgiving Day for the Cowboys. The 90-yard touchdown was the longest of his career, the longest touchdown thrown by Dak Prescott and the third longest in team history.

He is a difference maker and a game changer.

That’s why the Cowboys traded for him.

“I think tonight speaks on how I’ve been saying that he makes the whole transition easy,” Prescott said. “The elite player that he is. He gets space. He creates space with the route running that he has. That is what big time receivers do. That is what he did. He has speed in the open field to run away from. It makes him dangerous. He is only going to help to this offense and help this offense grow all the way around.”

And he is the sole reason the Cowboys beat the Redskins Thursday and are now in first place in the NFC East, who are now 3-1 since he came over in the trade from the Raiders.

And until Cooper broke loose, it was the same old same old from the wildly frustrating and routinely middling Cowboys.

There was no way the Redskins should have been in this game with their broken down offensive line and absence of injured quarterback Alex Smith.

The Cowboys certainly looked like they would put this away early.

The Cowboys opened with the most perfect of perfect drives, marching 75 yards on 10 plays.

Elliott, who had just 33 yards in the first meeting between the two teams, had 31 yards on four carries including a 16-yard touchdown run when he outraced a defender to the corner of the end zone.

Prescott converted two third downs with passes to Cooper, who didn’t play in the first game against the Redskins.

The 7-0 lead had a chance to grow on the ensuing drive when linebacker Jaylon Smith sacked McCoy, forcing a fumble but the Redskins recovered.

The Cowboys then went back to being the Cowboys netting just two first downs on the next three possessions. They couldn’t even take advantage of a McCoy interception by cornerback Anthony Brown.

The drive was averted by a sack of Prescott by defensive tackle Jonathan Allen.

A seemingly overmatched Redskins team, playing with a career backup, tied the game in the second quarter when McCoy connected on a 53-yard touchdown pass to tight end Vernon Davis against linebacker Damien Wilson in what was clearly a busted coverage.

The Cowboys then drove 12 plays and had a first down at the 4 only for a pressured Prescott to misfire on a pass to a wide-open Noah Brown in the end zone. A second down sack when they should have run Elliott forced them to settle for a 28-yard field goal with 1:28 left in the half.

The Cowboys got the ball back with time to score again thanks to two incomplete passes, one that should have been intercepted by Xavier Woods, a sack by Tyrone Crawford and DeMarcus Lawrence.

But the fourth sack of the half on Prescott and the slip on the turf that forced a bounced throw to Michael Gallup prevented them from even attempting a long field goal.

This is who they are.

At least it was who they were until Coop got loose.

McCoy, the former Texas Longhorn star, ended up throwing three interceptions.

Elliott rushed for 126 yards. It was his third straight 100-yard game and he is now the NFL’s leading rusher.

Prescott completed 22 of 31 passes for 289 yards with two touchdowns passing and one touchdown running. It was the seventh time in his career that he had two touchdowns passing and one running, the most in the NFL since he entered the league in 2016.

But the Cowboys have a chance to make this season special because of Cooper.

“I was telling him all week ‘this is going to be your game’,” Elliott said. “After that first touchdown, I was like ‘man, take over this game.’ He came back and took over. He’s a great player. He’s a great addition to this team. He makes us so much better.”

Cooper took over. The Cowboys are 3-1 with him and 3-4 without him. And now they are back in first place.

Clarence Hill Jr. :@clarencehilljr
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