LOS ANGELES – However tough it might have been to lose the best pass rusher on his defense, Dan Quinn had a heck of a backup plan.
It probably doesn't hurt that said backup plan, Micah Parsons, does not lack for confidence.
"After practice, Coach Q came up to me and was like 'Man, we're going to need you to step up big for us this week,'" Parsons said Sunday. "I just said 'Alright, Coach. Let's play.'"
Quinn's original plan for defending Justin Herbert and the Los Angeles Chargers went out the window on Wednesday afternoon, when DeMarcus Lawrence broke a bone in his foot and was lost for the foreseeable future.
Within hours, that plan altered to moving Parsons down to Lawrence's spot, where he spent the afternoon terrorizing Chargers backup right tackle Storm Norton.
The rookie linebacker said it was the most he's rushed the passer since high school, when he played defensive end – not that anyone could tell.
"A lot of it was natural," he said. "Some people had a long day out there."
It was the type of narrative flip that only happens in the wild world of the NFL. The conversation throughout the week centered on Terence Steele's ability – or lack thereof – to slow down Joey Bosa.
But while Bosa struggled to show up in the box score, Parsons made life difficult for Herbert, particularly in the second half, when the Chargers ran 36 plays and Herbert threw the ball 21 times.
"I was chasing him all day," Parsons said.
Eventually, that persistence paid off. Officially, Parsons was credited with two tackles, a sack and four hurries. But that sack couldn't have come at a bigger time. With the Cowboys leading, 17-14, Herbert guided the Chargers all the way to a 2nd-and-Goal from the Dallas 7-yard line.
But, while Herbert spent much of the afternoon successfully avoiding the rush to find big plays, he wasn't quite ready for Parsons' closing speed coming out of the pocket. The result was a Parsons sack for an 18-yard loss that eventually forced the Chargers to settle for a game-tying field goal, rather than a go-ahead touchdown.
"I really wanted Herbert, so when I finally got to him I was happy about that," he said.
The move might have been mad out of necessity, but it was a clear sign of the athleticism that prompted the Cowboys to draft Parsons No. 12 overall in the spring. His ability to flash that talent, not to mention versatility, in his second career game is an exciting sign of what's ahead.
As someone who also contributed quite a bit as a rookie, the performance was not lost on Dak Prescott.
"The fact of them being able to move him around – him off the edge, him at linebacker inside, wherever you put him," Prescott said. "He's a special guy and he's going to make plays."
It'll be fun to see how this affects things going forward. Lawrence figures to be out for six-to-eight weeks, so the Cowboys could use the help at edge rusher. But Randy Gregory is also expected back from the reserve/COVID-19 list this week, so it's possible Parsons could move back into a more traditional role.
Whatever the plan might look like, Parsons said he's ready for it.
"My main mindset is to be dominant throughout the whole game," he said. "Play at a high level, and every time I'm out there, make a play – whether I'm rushing the quarterback or stuffing the run. That's what I want to do is be as dominant as possible."
It's still early, but Parsons is proving he can do just that – and in a variety of ways.