Back to practice, Andy Dalton 'looked good' for Dallas Cowboys, coach Mike McCarthy says

FRISCO, Texas -- Dallas Cowboys quarterback Andy Dalton cleared the concussion and reserve/COVID-19 protocols and was a full participant in Monday's short practice, according to coach Mike McCarthy.

Dalton suffered a concussion in the Cowboys' Oct. 25 loss to the Washington Football Team and was placed on the NFL's reserve/COVID-19 list on Nov. 3. Because he was on the COVID list and not able to be at the team's facility, he did not finish the return-to-play rules for the concussion as quickly as anticipated.

The Cowboys are coming off their bye week, and since the team was placed under the intensive COVID protocols after their Nov. 8 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers after they had a player test positive, the Cowboys did not practice last week.

McCarthy did not want to say whether Dalton would start Sunday against the Minnesota Vikings, but executive vice president Stephen Jones said last week Dalton, if healthy, would return to the starting role.

"We've got to get through the whole week of practice," McCarthy said. "He hasn't been involved in a couple of weeks now. He looked good today, so we'll take it one day at a time."

In his second start as Dak Prescott's replacement, Dalton took a vicious hit from linebacker Jon Bostic, who was fined $12,000. Dalton was ruled out of the Nov. 1 game against the Philadelphia Eagles, which rookie Ben DiNucci started, and was on the reserve/COVID list for the game against the Steelers, which Garrett Gilbert started.

Conditioning is something McCarthy will consider in Dalton's return.

"I think it's something that he's really hit over the weekend," McCarthy said. "I mean, stating the obvious, Andy is a pro. He's in tune with where he needs to be, but it was great to have him in there today. He's off to a good start."

McCarthy would not commit to Gilbert as the No. 2 quarterback if Dalton is healthy enough to play against Minnesota. Gilbert stabilized the Cowboys' offense, throwing for 243 yards with a touchdown and interception in the first start of his career, pushing undefeated Pittsburgh to the brink.

The Cowboys also have DiNucci on the 53-man roster and Cooper Rush on the practice squad at quarterback. Defensive lineman Tyrone Crawford remains on the COVID list after being placed on it last week, but he could return to practice this week.

Dalton has completed 52 of 85 passes for 452 yards with one touchdown and three interceptions in four appearances this season.

If he can find the form that helped the Cincinnati Bengals to the playoffs in each of his first five seasons, the Cowboys have a shot to make the postseason even with a 2-7 record at present. The Eagles lead the division with a 3-5-1 mark, followed by the New York Giants (3-7), Washington Football Team (2-7) and Cowboys.

"Like anything in this game, especially from the messaging of a head coach, you have certain things to talk about, certain things you really don't want to talk about and certain things you just don't talk about. In my younger years, there were certain things I'd stay away from, they were just obvious. The point I'm making is, it's obvious the state of our division. It's something, I hit it today in the team meeting," McCarthy said, adding, "I think it's only obvious what the four records are in the division and winning the division and what's in front of you."