ARLINGTON, TX — It was an unavoidable headline that you can bet the linebackers for the Dallas Cowboys took to heart leading into their pivotal matchup/rematch against the Philadelphia Eagles in Week 14, namely the decision process of former Indianapolis Colts' linebacker Shaquille Leonard.
After visiting with both the Cowboys and the Philadelphia Eagles last week, Leonard opted to sign a one-year deal with the latter, but Damone Clark and Markquese Bell likely felt a way.
After all, they've been playing great football in 2023, stepping up in a major way following the loss of Leighton Vander Esch to season-ending injury. And on Sunday night, with all the football world watching, Clark and Bell were key reasons Jalen Hurts and the high-powered Philly offense failed to score a single touchdown through 60 minutes of football.
"We're just playing to our standard," said Clark after the game. "You can't just talk about being the best defense, you have to go out there and do it. I feel like we're doing what we're supposed to do. We missed a few plays out there but we'll go watch it, correct it and move on to the next game.
"We're not talking about it, we're going out there and being about it."
That's saying the least, folks.
Clark delivered four combined tackles, a pass break up and a fumble recovery, while Bell matched serve with four tackles of his own, as well as a pass break up a forced fumble against DeVonta Smith — one that put the offense in position to nail the coffin closed on the Eagles' hopes once and for all.
For contrast, Leonard had two combined tackles on the evening, and nothing else.
"We're young but, at the end of the day, this is not our first rodeo," Clark said of the message he and Bell sent following the Leonard headlines this past week. "It might be a different level of football, but it's just football, at the end of the day. As long as we keep taking steps in the right direction, I feel like everything is gonna be alright, and we're taking the right steps — just keep challenging one another and going out there and doing it."
It was a massive win by the Cowboys that was fueled by an explosive first-half onslaught by the offense and a dominant and nearly complete four-quarter effort by the defense, while Brandon Aubrey left his footprint on the game by stretching his streak to 30 on the season; and all from long distance.
For Clark and Bell, who operate in the literal nucleus of the Cowboys' defense, walking away with a statement win to go to 10-3 on the season and move into the top spot of the NFC East heading into the most difficult portion of their season was paramount.
That said, they didn't make it any bigger than it was and, to Dallas, it was just another rung on the ladder toward a potential trip to Las Vegas in February.
"It was important, but every game is important," Clark said. "This game wasn't just important because it was a division game. It was important because it was the next game. This was the next team that was in our way."