WR Cooper’s big day leads Cowboys to victory

ARLINGTON, Texas — When the Dallas Cowboys gave up a 2019 first-round pick to the Oakland Raiders for Amari Cooper last month, many eyebrows were raised in surprise.

On Thursday, the Cowboys’ investment in Cooper was rewarded in a major way.

Cooper had two third-quarter touchdown catches in a 31-20 win against the Washington Redskins that lifted the Cowboys into first place in the NFC East.

“I don’t want to prove the Raiders wrong,” Cooper said, “I want to prove the Cowboys right. They traded for me and I’m ready to be a good player for them.”

Acquired on Oct. 22, the day after the Cowboys lost the first meeting against Washington at FedEx Field, Cooper gave the Cowboys the lead for good with a 40-yard catch and run on an underneath throw from Dak Prescott on third down with 6 minutes, 47 seconds left in the third quarter.

Cornerback Quinton Dunbar slipped on the play and Cooper ran away from the rest of the Washington defense for a 17-13 lead on his longest catch since 2017.

On the Cowboys’ next drive, Cooper had the longest catch of his career and tied for the third-longest catch in Dallas history.

With three defenders closing in on a crossing route, Cooper grabbed Prescott’s pass and ran away from a linebacker, cornerback Fabian Moreau and safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix for a 24-13 lead with 2:10 left in the third quarter.

“I think tonight speaks on how I’ve been saying that he makes this whole transition easy,” Prescott said. “The elite player he is. He gets space and he creates space himself with the route running that he has. He did that and then he went and got a lot of yards after the catch. That’s what big-time receivers do.”

Not only was it the longest catch of Cooper’s career, it was the longest pass play in the NFL this season, the longest pass of Prescott’s career and the longest by a Cowboy since Troy Aikman hit Jason Tucker with a 90-yarder on Jan. 2, 2000.

Hall of Famer Bob Hayes has the longest touchdown catch by a Cowboy: 95 yards from Don Meredith in 1966. In 1978, Tony Dorsett had a 91-yard touchdown catch from Roger Staubach, and Aikman connected with Alvin Harper for 90 yards against San Francisco in 1994.

Cooper entered the game with 14 catches for 169 yards and a touchdown in his first three games since the trade. He finished with eight catches for 180 yards. His career-high came last year with 210 yards and two touchdowns in a 31-30 win on Oct. 19 against the Kansas City Chiefs.

That game was also on a Thursday.

Cooper and Prescott have quickly become a strong connection. In Prescott’s first 42 starts, the most yards after the catch he combined with a receiver was 41 yards from Dez Bryant at the New York Giants in 2017. Cooper’s touchdowns had 68 and 35 yards after the catch against the Redskins.

The last time a Cowboys receiver had more than 100 yards after the catch was Miles Austin, who had 150 of his franchise-record 250 yards after the catch in a 2009 win at the Kansas City Chiefs.

“I’ve just been putting in extra time with my coaches and with Dak,” Cooper said. “We sit by each other in the meeting room. We’re just trying to catch up and be on the same page. For some reason, since I got here the chemistry between me and Dak has been phenomenal.”

At 6-5, the Cowboys are in first place in the NFC with five games to play thanks to a three-game winning streak, which is their longest since Weeks 13-15 last year. Up next are the New Orleans Saints, who lead the NFC South with a 9-1 record entering tonight’s game against the Atlanta Falcons.

Since the Cowboys acquired Cooper, Ezekiel Elliott has had three 100-yard rushing games, including 121 yards against Washington, and Prescott has completed at least 67.7 percent of his passes after not completing better than 65.5 percent of his snaps in the first seven games.

Maybe more importantly, the Cowboys have found a winning formula since trading for Cooper that has them in first place in the division.

“They say if you want to be a good team you have to really start rolling in November,” Cooper said. “We’ve just been focused, man. We’ve been standing tall with our backs against the wall, relentless. Hopefully we can keep this up.”

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