ARLINGTON, Texas – Back from his four-game NFL suspension, Greg Hardy delivered what the Cowboys signed him in March to do on the field week after week, and especially against four-time Super Bowl champion Tom Brady:
Pressure. Down after down, series after series.
Starting at right defensive end in his Cowboys regular-season debut, Hardy sacked Brady twice in the first half of Sunday's 30-6 loss to the New England Patriots. He aided returning linebacker Rolando McClain on another sack, recorded five tackles and hurried Brady five times.
Sunday was the seventh multi-sack game of Hardy's five-year career. The Cowboys' defense sacked Brady five times, all in first half, and helped hold the halftime deficit to a manageable 10 points for its depleted offense.
Hardy led the way in his first regular-season game since Sept. 7, 2014, having spent 15 games last year on the commissioner's exempt list and then serving this year's four-game suspension for conduct detrimental to the league.
He was permitted to participate in all of training camp and preseason, and even though he couldn't be around the team during his suspension, he returned to Valley Ranch this past Monday in good shape.
"He prepares himself outstandingly," team owner/general manager Jerry Jones said. "He practiced hard so he could play like that. He came in less weight than he had been. He prepared himself. There's nobody on this team that's surprised to see him make that kind of impact on the field."
The defense's five sacks against the Patriots nearly matched its total of six through the previous four games and exceeded the Cowboys' 2014 single-game season-high of four.
Held to 13 points, 132 total yards and only 1-of-6 on third down at halftime – due in large part to the pressure from Hardy and others – Brady and the Patriots' top-ranked offense finally got loose in the second half for a pair of 80-yard touchdown drives.
"Phenomenal player," Hardy said of Brady. "They had a great game today. Everybody was just clicking on their team and they do what they normally do."
With McClain back and heralded rookie Randy Gregory returning from a high ankle sprain as early as Oct. 25 against the Giants – the first game after the upcoming bye – the defense is getting its key pieces back for a critical upcoming stretch as the Cowboys attempt to stay in the division race with quarterback Tony Romo (fractured collarbone) sidelined at least until the Nov. 22 trip to Miami.
Hardy said he felt a little rust and expects himself to keep improving as the weeks go on.
Sunday was a pretty good start.
"I've got to go back and work harder," he said. "I've got to put the money in the bank on every snap in practice and on every play in practice and cash in during the games."