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Finally Full Strength, D-Line Dominates Washington


LANDOVER, Md. Maybe the "three-headed monster" nickname should stick.

That's the term Micah Parsons used earlier in the week when asked about the Cowboys' top three pass rushers -- DeMarcus Lawrence, Randy Gregory and himself -- finally taking the field together for the first time since the season opener.

They didn't disappoint Sunday. In fact, defensive line pressure was the single biggest catalyst in Dallas' 27-20 road win over the Washington Football Team at FedExField, and the trio -- plus returning defensive tackle Neville Gallimore -- led the charge.

Back from a three-game stint on injured reserve due to a calf injury, Gregory made two critical bookend plays: in the first quarter, a spectacular deflection-and-interception of quarterback Taylor Heinicke that set up the Dallas offense's only touchdown of the day; and in the fourth quarter, a game-sealing sack-and-forced-fumble on backup Kyle Allen which safety Jayron Kearse recovered to halt Washington's improbable late comeback.

Lawrence picked up right where he left off in his second game back from a 10-game stint on IR (foot). Rushing off the edge and inside, he had two tackles for loss, two quarterback hits and his first sack of the season.

And Parsons continues to make a case not only for NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year but perhaps Defensive Player of the Year, too. With two sacks Sunday, the linebacker/defensive end now has 12.0 for the season, just four behind league leader T.J. Watt (Steelers). He knocked the ball loose from Heinicke on his first sack of the game, and defensive end Dorance Armstrong picked it up for a 37-yard fumble return for a touchdown that gave Dallas a commanding 18-0 lead in the first quarter.

Parsons is now just the third rookie in NFL history to post a full sack in six straight games, joining Jevon Kearse (eight games, 1999) and Mike Croel (six games, 1991). He's only 2.5 sacks away from Kearse's rookie sack record (14.5).

"Very gifted young man, very natural and instinctive football player with excellent gifts and traits," head coach Mike McCarthy said. "It's been really fun to watch him grow."

The all-angles pressure was suffocating for Heinicke. He completed only 11 of 25 passes for 122 yards and one touchdown before leaving with a knee injury in the fourth quarter after a sack by Gallimore, the talented second-year tackle who missed the first 12 games with a dislocated elbow.

"We expect to do a lot of great things," Gregory said. "It's really about our preparation and going out there and executing. When guys have their laser focus about their game plan, we really go out there and ball out."

Sunday was dominant performance, and necessary one, too. The Cowboys' offense struggled to find any consistent rhythm. Quarterback Dak Prescott was 22-of-39 for 211 yards with one touchdown and two interceptions, including a pick-six that allowed Washington to make it a one-score game in the final five minutes.

Time and again, the defense got them the ball back.

"That's all you can ask for. That's the most complementary football," Prescott said. "But then we've got to go and reward them and get a touchdown."

As the offense looks to regain their league-leading dynamic form from earlier in the season, the defense now plans to build on, at long last, being full strength up front.

The vision of a pressure package featuring Gregory, Lawrence, Parsons and Gallimore finally became reality Sunday. And it could take the unit to another level in the final month of the regular season.

"Just having them back and them getting back in the swing of things, getting ready for this big run we're trying to do, it's only going to go up from here," Parsons said.

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