ARLINGTON, TX — The late, great Kobe Bryant left this world with plenty of gems, and one of those is his "Mamba Mentality" — a mindset rooted in the unwillingness to relent even when you have an opponent cornered and mostly beaten. The mentality should always be to remain full throttle until the fight is officially over, and the Dallas Cowboys are beginning to show they've learned the lesson.
"It just comes from us doing our job and the offense doing theirs, not putting us in bad situations, and vice versa — flipping the field every chance they get," said safety Jayron Kearse after finishing off the New York Jets with a 30-10 final score.
That gives the Cowboys a whopping 70-10 advantage in points over their first two opponents, but more impressive is the fashion in which they're operating late in those blowout victories.
With the Cowboys leading 27-10 early in the fourth quarter, Kearse grabbed his first interception of the season and returned it 32 yards. A few minutes later, leading 30-10, it was fellow safety Malik Hooker matching serve with his first interception of 2023. On the very next drive by the Jets, it was First-Team All-Pro cornerback Trevon Diggs getting in on the action with — you guessed it — his first interception of the young season.
Mamba mentality, indeed.
"[Our offense] takes care of the ball," Kearse explained. "They're doing their job. Coach Mike [McCarthy] is calling the right things and understanding that we have a defense that's opportunistic, and we're gonna go out there and make a play, create a play, whatever. I probably just used the wrong word. We're not opportunistic.
"We're just the best in the business."
Given they've led the league in takeaways for two consecutive seasons and now do so through the first two games of 2023, it's impossible to argue against the point.
That said, on more than one occasion in 2022, e.g., versus the Green Bay Packers and the Jacksonville Jaguars, the Cowboys had a commanding lead that was ultimately deleted en route to two losses that cost them the shot at a 14-3 season and a potential first-round bye; along with home field advantage throughout the playoffs.
To Kearse's point, the offense is taking their shots (see CeeDee Lamb’s historic day for reference) but not unnecessary risks once the defense has an opposing team on the ropes.
And with the No. 1 donning his NFL jersey for the first time, his goal being to channel “Clemson Kearse” going forward in order to help keep the elite Cowboys secondary at the top of their game, the aforementioned INT went a long way to affirming his mission for 2023.
"It felt good," he said. "It felt really good. My sights were on the end zone at all costs. I was cutting back, and everything, just trying to get into the end zone. I was joking with the guys and saying that it's hard around here to be great by yourself.
"I get a pick, then Malik [Hooker] gets a pick, and then Trevon [Diggs] gets a pick. I was laughing like, 'Let me be great by myself.' But around here, that's just how things go. We get that ball.
"The past two years, we've been the best in the business at it and we're just trying to continue that."
What will continue to help is the upgraded and feverish run defense in Dallas, one that held Saquon Barkley to fewer than 50 rushing yards in Week 1 and allowed none of the Jets' running backs to rush for more than nine yards.
That's an unfathomable feat when you consider the combo of Breece Hall and Dalvin Cook facing a Cowboys' run defense that has, in recent seasons, been the biggest (and, sometimes, only) tender point in their otherwise impenetrable unit.
"I'm very proud, and that starts with those guys upfront," said Kearse. "On the first play of the game, [DeMarcus Lawrence] gets a TFL (tackle for loss) to set the tone. … And then we put Micah [Parsons] inside. He's not the heaviest guy but he's making plays inside. And then you've got Osa [Odighizuwa], you've got [Johnathan Hankins].
"You've got a lot of guys up front that's making it easy for us on the back end. … And not having a lot of missed tackles. It all starts with those guys up front. We knew what we had to work on. Last year, that run game caused us a lot of havoc.
"We went out there and fixed it. And you can see it on film."
There's still a lot of football to be played, admittedly, but if the Cowboys — on both sides of the ball — can continue to live by the famous competition creed and standard set forth by Kobe Bryant, they'll put themselves in position to do this year what he was able to do on five separate occasions over the course of his legendary career:
Sit atop the mountain.