Published in DMagazine.com
I’m sorry, Micah Parsons.
Sorry I thought the Cowboys should have drafted someone else, a cornerback or even an offensive lineman. I should have known better. But I overreacted because I’m old enough to remember all the defensive players the Cowboys picked who hardly justified getting selected in the first round.
The first I remember was Shante Carver, in the 1994 Draft. Brought in to replace Charles Haley, Carver had just 11.5 sacks in four seasons with the Cowboys.
There was Greg Ellis in 1998. He was a good player, so perhaps it’s unfair to include him, but still, he lives in the Cowboys fan consciousness only because the team could have had Randy Moss instead.
The year after Ellis came Ebenezer Ekubar. He played five seasons with the Cowboys, three of them during the Dark Days of Dave Campo.
Then there was Roy Williams—the safety, not the wide receiver—who in his first couple of seasons looked like he could have been great. He then fell off a cliff, immortalized only by his tackling technique that was eventually outlawed.
After that was Bobby Carpenter, best remembered for being called Barbie Carpenter on Hard Knocks. Then Mo Claiborne, who was entirely forgettable despite being the highest pick among these guys. And most recently, there was Taco Charlton. I don’t even know what to say about Taco (other than that they should have drafted T.J. Watt instead).
Sure, there were some hits. Terrence Newman was more than dependable, and DeMarcus Ware will end up in the Hall of Fame—maybe as early as next year—and likely the Ring of Honor. But there were more misses. And so, I worried. But on Sunday, you helped ease that concern as you played from a position, defensive end, that isn’t your own.
The way you rushed off the edge, dipped inside, and sometimes spun around offensive linemen, and pressured Justin Herbert throughout the game. Your eight pressures in the game were the most from a rookie since Nick Bosa two years ago. You also had four quarterback hurries. All while seemingly getting continuously held. But it was your first career sack that epitomized how well you played Sunday.
The Chargers were down by three, on your 7 yard line on second down, about five and a half minutes left in the game. It almost felt inevitable that they’d score a touchdown. In fact, they had scored the previous play, only to have the touchdown wiped off the board because of an illegal shift penalty. It felt inevitable because that’s what seems to happen every week. The defense would eventually give up those points, and Dak and the offense would be forced to try to win the game on a last-second touchdown drive.
But then, right when Herbert—who played well—took the snap from the shotgun, faked a handoff, then looked up for a receiver, you were already pressuring him. You pushed Matt Feiler, the pulling guard who stands 6-foot-6 and weighs 330 pounds, about 4 yards back. You then broke from his grasp and, as fast as a running back, chased down Herbert 18 yards behind the line of scrimmage. It was the type of Herculean play that becomes much more impressive with each replay. Something that looked routine until rewatching it 15 or 20 or more times. Something like when Larry Allen, also as a rookie, chased down a linebacker after an interception.
On the defensive side, I haven’t seen that type of play, here, from a rookie since DeMarcus Ware. It was the type of game that made me ask, “Holy shit, are the Cowboys actually good?” Because in recent years—and you, being a die-hard Cowboys fan, would know this better than most—this was also the type of game the team has lost more often than won. And those losses haunt you at the end of the season because they always feel like the team let one get away. But this game felt like the opposite. That you won even when it was all there for you to lose, being without several starters and important contributors.
On offense, La’el Collins was out—the first of his five-game suspension—and Michael Gallup was, too, because of a calf injury. After dominating the first quarter, including an opening-drive touchdown, the offense had just three possessions and scored only six points in the second half. On defense, DeMarcus Lawrence, Randy Gregory, and Donovan Wilson all missed the game for a variety of reasons ranging from injury to COVID protocols. And you, along with the rest of the defense who also played well (especially Trevon Diggs who had another interception, Leighton Vander Esch, the much-maligned Jaylon Smith, and Jayron Kearse) beat a good Chargers team. They’d won five consecutive games going back to last season, and you all held them to just 17 points. The much-improved defense forced another two turnovers. But out of all the defensive stats and plays, it was you who stood out.
With all those injuries, the offense not playing particularly well, on the road—though admittedly, not in front of a hostile crowd since it looked like there were more Cowboys than Chargers fans at SoFi Stadium—this was about as good a win as can come at this point of the season. Teams that start their season 0-2 rarely make the playoffs. And based on last season’s records, your schedule is about to get easier during this stretch of games, when starting players will still be out.
Your next game will be the home opener against the Eagles. Whoever wins will at least have a share of the division lead, which doesn’t necessarily mean much three games into the season, but I’d rather have it than not.
Ever since Antonio Ramiro Romo was playing, this defense has felt like the weak link. Like the offense would need to score at least 30 points to maybe win — because, for the better of three years, they literally had to. Like if they did score and there was any reasonable amount of time left in the game, we’d all have to suffer another loss that felt like it should have been a win. But on Sunday, for the first time in a long time, the Cowboys won an important game because of the defense. And in the process, the team might have discovered that the key to this season might be your versatility, which was always listed as a plus in the scouting reports.
I read them, ignored them, and I’m not sure why. My guess is because being a Cowboys fan—especially after the dreadful 2020 season—means feeling like the bottom of the grocery paper bag is wet and about to tear.
So I’m sorry, Micah Parsons. I never should have doubted. The Cowboys wouldn’t have won that game without you.