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Bell, Thomas focused on repeat performance vs Jets


FRISCO, Texas — Everyone played a role in the 40-0 demolition of the New York Giants in Week 1, and that includes two second-year safeties — namely Markquese Bell and Juanyeh Thomas — both playing like seasoned veterans as they did their part in putting on a show at MetLife Stadium, but now come the New York Jets looking for an upset in Week 2.

Wondering if the Cowboys' locker room is overlooking Wilson, who isn't exactly Aaron Rodgers but can still make some plays?

Not happening.

"Me, personally, I always think the worst," said Bell. "My perspective is, sh-t, we're going into the game as the underdogs."

It's that kind of mentality that permeates the locker room in Dallas, on both sides of the ball as well as on special teams, so don't expect a let-up (en route to a possible letdown) in the intensity from Week 1 to Week 2.

"You have to burn it into your brain to stay neutral," said Thomas of staying on level ground, mentally, after the historic outing against New York's other team. "I'm not even thinking about that game now. I'm thinking about the Jets and what kind of plays I can make against them. [Every week] will be the same [mentality]."

For both Thomas and Bell, who were both undrafted and spent the a lot of time on the Cowboys' practice squad in 2022 working to level up (Thomas made his NFL debut against the Giants while Bell was active in five games last season but logged only 53 total defensive snaps), what happened a MetLife Stadium was largely a coming-out party.

Lending to a point made by Malik Hooker in July, both have had a stellar training camp and preseason that have now continued into September.

"Anybody can have a good preseason," said Thomas. "The question is can you translate that over? That was something weighing heavy on my brain ahead of [Week 1]. I've shown up in preseason but, now, can I show up in a big-time game? I burned that into my brain. Every time I stepped out there, I told myself, 'Make a play. Make a play. Make a play.'"

That he did, time and again.

His blocked 45-yard field goal attempt by Pro Bowl kicker Graham Gano led to the first-ever NFL touchdown by former first-round pick and newly-acquired cornerback Noah Igbinoghene.

That followed an impact tackle against Saquon Barkley that helped halt the Giants' first offensive drive (forcing said field goal attempt) and, two plays from scrimmage later, his pass defensed against playmaking tight end Darren Waller forced a third-and-10 that ended in Micah Parsons taking down Daniel Jones for a sack.

The Giants would punt to end the drive.

"After the first play of the game on defense is when the monkey jumped off of my back," Thomas said. "I didn't know I was going to be in for the first play of the game. When I did, I knew it was real. After that, it was just [about] locking in on my keys and to make a play."

For Bell, who was often seen flying around making tackles, and who finished with eight combined (a team-high), quickly stepping into the role vacated by an injured rookie linebacker DeMarvion Overshown was a key assignment by defensive coordinator Dan Quinn; and a challenge the young safety welcomed with open arms.

"Honestly, I just went in the game to try and help my team out as much as I could," said the former Florida A&M standout. "I was trying to fill in a role and do my best. I went out there and played with some great guys that helped me out a lot, put me in a great position, and worked with me because I'm not 100% on everything out there [just yet].

"But when you play fast and uphold our play style, you'll make plays."

Not dissimilar from Thomas, for Bell, it's all about building on what he's started.

"I'm my biggest critic," he said. "I just went into that game, prayed and allowed God to play through me. I just trust the abilities He's blessed me with, trusted my teammates and the work that we've put in; and it's just football at the end of the day. No matter what level we might be on, it's just football.

"It's the same game we've been playing since we were younger."

His football life led him to the grass of FAMU, an HBCU, taking the much more challenging road to the NFL but proving, like others before him, that there's professional talent that deserves an opportunity where many aren't looking on a regular basis.

Thankfully, for all involved, the Cowboys were/are.

"It's big, but we've got other guys doing it all around the league," said Bell. "So I'm just happy I can be one of those guys. We're going to keep putting on for the HBCUs."

All eyes have long turned to the Jets, in a week-to-week league that has always proven it's about what you do this week, and not what you were able to achieve or not achieve in the week prior. That's a lesson the young Cowboys' safeties are already bought into, thanks to Quinn and the veteran leadership in the locker room, so expect an equally strong effort from them against Gang Green.

In what Parsons has described as a “battle of the defenses” this coming Sunday, and with there being a chance Donovan Wilson is again absent as he works to return from a calf strain, Bell and Thomas will be asked to take center stage alongside the other playmakers in Dallas.

"[The Jets] have a lot of great players and great weapons on both sides [of the ball], so it's gonna be a great matchup," said Thomas. "Just like every other game."

Spoken like a true veteran, even though he technically isn't one at all quite yet.

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