ARLINGTON, Texas – There's a lot to say about DeMarcus Lawrence's fourth quarter saga against the Lions, but Jeremy Mincey probably phrased it best.
"That was epic, man," said Mincey, behind a toothy grin.
Mincey beamed like a proud father about his fellow linemate, and his locker mate at AT&T Stadium. How could he not? The Cowboys' rookie pass rusher was primed to be one of the biggest scapegoats in recent NFL memory, and he wound up as a hero just eight plays later.
Dallas clung to a four-point lead as the clock ticked toward the two-minute warning. With Detroit still in its own territory, Anthony Spencer blindsides Matthew Stafford for a critical strip-sack – a fumble which Lawrence recovered, only to lose it back to the Lions seconds later.
"I was like 'No!' And then he told me he was going to make up for it," Mincey said. "He looked us in the eye and said 'I'm going to make up for it, man.' "
It's one thing to say that. Eight plays later, though Lawrecne delivered – emphatically. On a 4th-and-3 from the Dallas 42-yard line, Stafford once again dropped back. This time it was Lawrence who dropped him – his first career sack – and pounced on the ensuing fumble.
"Just being a rookie in the playoffs, having a game-sealing deal like that -- it gets no better than that," Lawrence said.
It's been a long time coming for the No. 34 overall pick, who was drafted to help Mincey bolster a depleted pass rush. Expectations were high to start training camp – before Lawrence was sidelined for 12 weeks with a broken foot.
He returned to the roster nine weeks ago in the loss to Arizona, and it's been tough sledding acclimating to the NFL level. Heading into Sunday, the rookie had nine tackles and no sacks in his seven career games.
"Knowing how hard it was to get my first step back, just going through the process of -- after getting hurt and then coming back – trying to work to be your best," Lawrence said. "It was clicking, and I felt the pressure I was getting on the quarterback. I knew it was going to come sooner or later."
Given those circumstances, it's easy to understand why Lawrence would attempt to turn the first fumble into points for the Cowboys. Defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli harps on this defense about scooping and scoring, and it was the rookie's first chance at a game-changing play as a professional.
Lawrence was given those lifelines while talking to reporters at his locker, but he opted not to take them.
"With an opportunity like that you've got to know what type of situation you're in," he said. "It don't matter what you're trying to do, it's just all about instincts and knowing there's only two minutes on the clock and you need to stay down. It was a rookie mistake, but I learned from it a lot."
That'll make for two valuable lessons, both learned within that same span of just 10 minutes. Cowboys players and coaches frequently emphasize the importance of moving on to the next play, and it'd be hard to find a better example of that quality.
Lawrence said his emotions were too high during his first, ill-fated fumble recovery. If that's the case, he credited teammates like Mincey and J.J. Wilcox with keeping him from getting too low.
"The team helped me out a lot. J.J. came up to me, told me, 'Hey keep your head in the game and go out there and make another play,'" he said. "The team is just a group of guys that believe in each other."
Wilcox backed that belief up when asked about the rookie's promise to make up for his mistake.
"I'm not surprised. The guy fights hard in practice every day despite being out all of training camp and not being here in the early part of the season – but he's a fighter," he said. "He's a great pass rusher, he's coming around now – as you can see."
It might have been a long wait for a player the Cowboys traded a third-round pick to acquire. But for Lawrence, who grew up a Cowboys fan, it couldn't have come at a bigger moment. Lawrence said he was familiar with Leon Lett's own misadventures with the football, but he hadn't had time to process his own place in his favorite team's history.
"It ain't run through my mind yet -- so many questions. I ain't got time to think about that," he said.
Asked to relive it one more time, it was Marinelli's turn to smile proudly about a long looked-for moment that finally arrived.
"He's been coming along every week," Marinelli said. "He's getting better and better, and that's what really good pass rushers do – they affect the outcome of the game."