ARLINGTON, Texas – David Irving hadn't played a game snap in 318 days.
His first play Sunday looked rust-free.
On third down of the Cowboys' second defensive series, Irving busted through the Jacksonville line and chased quarterback Blake Bortles out of the pocket, forcing an incomplete pass and a Jaguars punt.
Bortles got more of the same treatment throughout the Cowboys' 40-7 victory at AT&T Stadium. He was also the first opposing quarterback to face this imposing assortment of pass rushers on the field at the same time: Pro Bowler DeMarcus Lawrence and Randy Gregory at defensive end, Irving and Maliek Collins at defensive tackle.
"I had dreamed of seeing that combination for a long time," Cowboys owner/general manager Jerry Jones said. "There's more than you could ever imagine (that) has gone into having that front four – Lawrence, certainly Collins over there and then having Irving and having Gregory on the outside."
The Cowboys have had to wait. Gregory missed the better part of the previous two seasons due to suspension. Collins has been in and out of the lineup since training camp due to injury.
And Irving has dealt with a personal matter intermittently since the offseason. He was excused from training camp, then served a four-game NFL suspension and finally returned to practice, only to be held out of Week 5 at Houston when the reported family matter resurfaced and limited his reps during the week.
Sunday, with only three practices under his belt in the last two weeks – this entire year, for that matter – the 6-7, 290-pound Irving showed his difference-making talent. He posted two tackles for loss in about 20 snaps at both tackle spots and defensive end, creating mismatches against Jacksonville's blockers up front.
Irving was told during the week that he might only play 10-15 snaps, but the Cowboys also wanted to monitor the workload for Lawrence (shoulder) and Gregory (knee). Both entered the game at less than full strength.
"Hard to (evaluate Irving's play) until we see the tape, but I'll tell you what, he looks like he's 11-feet-tall out there," head coach Jason Garrett said. "He was in the backfield and penetrating. It was great to see after he worked hard this week to get himself ready to go. He's a big part of what we want to do up front."
The Cowboys' defensive line rotation extends well beyond the above-mentioned combo. Defensive captain Tyrone Crawford, 2017 first-round pick Taco Charlton and newcomer Antwaun Woods have been productive starters. Rookie Dorance Armstrong started at left defensive end with Lawrence rotating in on passing downs.
Bortles was sacked three times and threw for only 149 yards (one touchdown, one interception).
Irving acknowledged his conditioning needs work after so much time away. But he's excited to see what the line can do together moving forward.
"Very determined, as determined as I ever was," he said. "Some things get in the way and you've got to handle some things and unfortunately it's cost me some game time and practice time.
"But I'm looking to string weeks together. I should be here for the rest of the season. And everything should just get better and better from here on out."