Amari Cooper has seen what a key, late-season injury can do to a team.
In Cooper’s second season in the league, his quarterback Derek Carr broke his leg in the fourth quarter of the 15th game when the Raiders were 12-3 and AFC West champs.
“It’s football,” Cooper said. “You have a 99 percent chance of getting hurt anytime you go out there on the field. It’s just a question of when are you going to get hurt.”
Most importantly, Cooper said, injuries seem to happen when players are playing not to get hurt. The Cowboys will host either the Seattle Seahawks or Minnesota Vikings in the wild card round on Jan. 5 or 6. Nothing will change whether Dallas wins or loses against the Giants (5-10).
“That’s usually when you go out there and get hurt because you play kind of timid,” he said. “It’s something about going out there thinking you’re going to get hurt and play a little shy and you just get hurt for some reason.”
But that ‘16 Raiders team lost to the Broncos in the regular-season finale and had to play the Texans in Houston in the wild card round. The Raiders fell behind 27-7 early in the fourth quarter and lost 27-14 as backup quarterback Connor Cook threw three interceptions. So much for their 12-4 regular season.
“It was kind of bleak after he got hurt,” Cooper said. “It’s a physical sport. You go out there and you play.”
About the only good reason to let Cooper play, say, the first half, is to give him more time working with Dak Prescott. But Prescott is probably not going to play more than the first quarter, despite head coach Jason Garrett’s insistence that every healthy player will play. He hasn’t exactly gotten specific about how much key players, such as Prescott, Ezekiel Elliott and Cooper will play.
Since Cooper arrived via trade in late October, the Cowboys are 6-2. Without him, it’s unlikely they would have won the NFC East, much less earned a playoff berth. But if Cooper Rush is taking snaps in the second quarter does it do a lot of good to have Cooper in the game risking injury? Cooper says it does.
“I take a lot of pride in it. They called me in, they traded for me, they expected me to make some plays to help us win ball games and I felt like I came in and did a little bit of that,” he said. “Being around this team, seeing what we have, I can tell you it’s truly something special.”
Another strong argument to be made in defense of playing the regulars as much as possible, especially on offense, is their inconsistency getting in the end zone. If the offense doesn’t improve, Dallas isn’t going far in the playoffs anyway.
“Obviously, we’ve been struggling in the red zone a little bit. That definitely should be a point of emphasis,” said Cooper, who has just eight catches for 53 yards in his last two games combined. He had 10 for 217 yards three games ago. “Just try to execute in all phases going into the playoffs.”
“Every game you play in is very important,” he said, defending the importance of the finale. “Why would you go out there and not [try to] get a W?”